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Jim Holt's 'Stop Me If You've Heard This'

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We’re not certain about author Jim Holt’s take on funny (he calls Gary Shandling a ”now-forgotten American comedian”), but his book Stop Me If You’ve Heard This proves he knows the evolution of jokes.

4th century B.C.
Philip the Great commissions the first joke book.

1st century A.D.
1 Corinthians tells that joke about ”unpresentable parts” of the body being the most important.

4th century A.D.
The Philogelos contains gags about lettuce (no longer funny) and flatulence (funny in perpetuity).

1451
Poggio Bracciolini’s The Facetiae reprints jokes from papal scribes. Surprisingly, the Vatican doesn’t seem to mind.

17th century
Isaac Newton laughs just once in his life — over the work of Greek mathematician Euclid. (You had to be there.)

1940s
Adolf Hitler uses joke courts to prosecute anti-Nazi humorists. Also, a man is executed for naming his horse Adolf.

1970s
A dirty joke starring Richard and Pat Nixon spreads. It later resurfaces with Ronald and Nancy Reagan, then Bill and Hillary Clinton.

2000
Larry David in Curb Your Enthusiasm revamps a joke from The Facetiae about why men pressure women for sex, not vice versa.

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