5 of the Oldest Jokes in History

  • Anglo-Saxons circa 800 CE
Anglo-Saxons circa 800 CE
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For as long as humankind has existed and suffered, we’ve also laughed. Humor — and jokes, specifically — have long been a part of socio-anthropological culture, whether as a way to poke fun at the powerful or just to be plain silly. Even toilet humor, however gross, has often played a significant role in day-to-day life, amusing and shocking listeners with taboo topics. From the earliest days of civilization, laughter has brought people together despite their differences, serving as a tool for both enjoying life and bonding with one another. Here are some of the oldest jokes in history, observations and witticisms that made people laugh thousands of years ago.

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The Oldest Recorded Joke

The oldest joke on record dates back to 1900 BCE in ancient Sumer, the earliest known civilization in Mesopotamia. Rather than a conventional setup and punchline structure, the joke is more of an observation: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.” The double-negatives throw in a bit of confusion, but the joke gets at a primary urge to hide certain imperfections from a romantic partner. 

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The First “Walked Into a Bar” Joke

The Sumerians are also credited with the first-ever “walked into a bar” joke, dating to around 1983 BCE. It goes: “A dog walks into a bar and says, ‘I cannot see a thing. I’ll open this one.’” Though we’re all familiar with bar jokes — and the odd characters and animals who just so happen to walk into them — no one can quite parse the meaning of this Sumerian joke, or why it was funny. There are amateur theories ranging from the Sumerians appreciating (as we do now) “random humor,” or the dog’s blindness being some kind of pun. Until we have a time machine, it’s likely to remain a mystery.

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