- Joe Miller was a comedian who wrote the first popular joke book in the age of Shakespeare.
- That original manuscript went out of print and was thought to be lost forever.
- A recent excavation in Old London has unearthed the only known copy of the original Joe Miller's Joke Book.
Any comedian worth their salt has heard the one about Joe Miller’s Joke Book. It’s an apocryphal tale, in which a stage actor named Joe Miller, a contemporary of William Shakespeare, compiled the first book of 12 jokes (then called “jests”) and it became his lasting legacy.
From ancient times, the number 12 has been considered a mark of portent and import. There are 12 months in the year, 12 signs of the Zodiac and 12 musical notes in the scale. And, let’s not forget that bagels taste better by the dozen. So, naturally, Joe Miller thought 12 jokes were all that were needed to entertain any gathering, small or large, and to leave a witty mark for posterity.
When asked at the time, Joe Miller’s explanation for the dearth of humorous content supposedly went something like, “There are really only three jokes in the world. Be fortunate I threw in the other nine, which are just variations of the originals.”
Alas, despite its popularity at the time, the original manuscript was thought to be lost forever. But, in 1739, an author named John Mottley published a compendium which added more than 200 jokes to the list and, since then, subsequent publications and re-issues have brought the total to over 1,500. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been a way to verify the three original jokes (or the nine variations on a theme) Joe Miller first immortalized in print, since no copies have survived the ravages of time.
Recently, a startling discovery was made while archaeologists carefully dug in an excavation site prior to the erection of a new structure in Central London. It seemed the pit was once the location of a medieval library which was leveled to the ground long after Joe Miller’s death and has been rebuilt many times over.
In it was found an original copy of Joe Miller’s Joke Book, along with many other buried treasures. But, they all pale in comparison. Because, it’s now possible to learn what Joe Miller hoped to teach all who came after him: That there are really only three jokes and all others are just versions of the originals.
So, it’s with great pleasure we reveal the three jests contained in the original Joe Miller’s Joke Book, followed by their nine variations. And, we have come to a conclusion, which by the end of this reading, you may also agree with:
Now we know why Joe Miller’s Joke Book was buried so long…
The Original Three Jests From Joe Miller’s Joke Book:
A Mathematics teacher had been married without being able to get his wife with child. One acquaintance said to her “Madam, your husband is renowned as an excellent Arithmetician.” “Yes” said she, “only he can’t multiply.”
A man, who claimed he’d seen a ghost, was asked what the spirit said to him. “How should I understand what he said? I am not skilled in any of the dead languages.”
When a certain nobleman was being escorted to the gallows for a crime he had committed, he annoyed his guards on the long walk from the jail to the execution site by complaining about the miserable rainy weather. He kept this up for some time, until one of the guards said, very loudly, “You should have no cause for complaint m’Lord. Look at us. We have to walk all the way back.”
The Nine Variations Of Jests From The Original Joe Miller’s Joke Book:
Two brothers were to be executed for a terrible crime and the elder was hanged first without saying a word. The other began to harangue the crowd, who were expecting a confession from him. “Good people,” says he, “my brother hangs before me and you see what a lamentable spectacle he makes. I shall soon be hanged too. And then you’ll see a pair of spectacles.”
A gentleman said of a young lady, who was known by the lawyers of the town, that, “If she had as much law in her head as she had in her tail she would be the ablest counsel in England.”
When Cromwell first coined his money, an old Cavalier read the inscriptions. On one side was written “God Is With Us” and on the obverse, “The Commonwealth of England.” “I see,” said the Cavalier, “God and the Commonwealth are on different sides.”
A gentleman lent money to a person in whose promises he had not much faith. He was very much surprised, therefore, to find the man punctually kept his word while paying back the loan. The same gentleman later was desirous of borrowing the like sum. “No,” said the first, “you have deceived me once and I am resolved you shan’t do it a second time.”
A gentleman coming to an inn in Smithfield, and seeing the hostler expert with horses, asked, “How long have you lived here and where are you from?” “I’m a Yorkshire,” said the fellow, “and I’ve lived here sixteen years.” “I wonder,” replied the gentleman, “that in so long a time, so clever a fellow as you seem to be, have not come to be master of the inn yourself?” “Aye,” said the Hostler, “but master’s a Yorkshire too.”
A clergyman was preaching an exceedingly dull sermon to a congregation not used to him. Many of them slunk out of the church one after another, before the sermon was ended. “Truly,” said a gentleman present, “this learned preacher had a moving discourse.”
The Lord Dorset asked a Bishop why he conferred Orders on so many blockheads. “Oh, my Lord,” says the Bishop, “’tis better the ground should be plowed by asses than lie untilled.”
Somebody asked Lord Bacon what he thought of poets. “Why,” said he, “I think them the very best writers. Next to illiterates.”
A lady’s age happened to be questioned. She affirmed she was but 40, and called upon a gentleman for his opinion. “Sir,” said she, “do you believe me when I say I am but 40?” “I ought not to dispute it, Madam,” said he, “for I have heard you say so many times these last ten years.”
What do you think? Are Joe Miller’s jokes still funny?
Please let us know, with a comment below!