Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes by Jim Holt - review by David Profumo

David Profumo

Lost in Translation

Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes


Profile Books 160pp £8.99

It’s what happens when the chicken crosses the road, when you hear ‘Mummy, Mummy’, or meet shaggy dogs, blondes, Confucius, or three men entering a bar (metajoke: A priest, a rabbi and a minister walk into a bar, and the bartender says: ‘What is this, a joke?’) – and it’s what started out as an essay on humour for the New Yorker, and has turned into this snappily titled little volume by Jim Holt, quondam American correspondent for LR and devotee of the late Auberon Waugh, who would surely have delighted in the entire undertaking, from its subversive scholarship right down to the Scriblerian index.

Beginning with a whirlwind dash through the possible origin of jokes, our author cites the Philogelos anthology from Ancient Greece, wherein, even then, certain familiar characters are evident (the miser, the sex-starved lady), though the examples of wit he gives are frustratingly enfeebled by the centuries, and much has been

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