Sunday, 16 November 2008

Hierocles & Philagrius walk into a bar...

Just when Lad Litter was wondering who to turn to for Obama humour - surely quite a dearth of material after the overwhelming, generosity of Bush (see last post) - it looks as though we just need to look a lot further... back:

Ancient Greeks pre-empted Dead Parrot sketch

"I'll tell you what's wrong with it. It's dead, that's what's wrong with it."

For those who believe the ancient Greeks thought of everything first, proof has been found in a 4th century AD joke book featuring an ancestor of Monty Python's Dead Parrot sketch where a man returns a parrot to a shop, complaining it is dead.

The 1,600-year-old work entitled
"Philogelos: The Laugh Addict," one of the world's oldest joke books, features a joke in which a man complains that a slave he has just bought has died, its publisher said Friday.

"By the gods," answers the slave's seller, "when he was with me, he never did any such thing!"

In a British comedy act Monty Python's Flying Circus sketch, first aired in 1969 and regularly voted one of the funniest ever, the pet-shop owner says the parrot, a "Norwegian Blue," is not dead, just "resting" or "pining for the fjords."

The English-language book will appeal to those who swear that the old jokes are the best ones. Many of its 265 gags will seem strikingly familiar, suggesting that sex, dimwits, nagging wives and flatulence have raised laughs for centuries.

In many of the jokes, a slow-witted figure known as the "student dunce" is the butt of the jokes. In one, the student dunce goes to the city and a friend asks him to buy two 15-year-old slaves: No problem,' responds the dunce. If I don't find two 15-year-olds, I'll get one 30-year-old.'

In another, someone asks to borrow the student's cloak to go down to the country. "I have a cloak to go down to your ankle, but I don't have one that reaches to the country," he replies.

The manuscript is attributed to a pair of ancient comedians called Hierocles and Philagrius. Little is known about them except that they were most likely the compilers of the jokes, not the original writers.

Philagrius: So, there's this woman out hunting moose...

Hierocles: Hunting what?

Philagrius: Look, doesn't matter, she's cute.

Hierocles: Oh, ok. Continue.

Philagrius: So she's out with her gun...

Hierocles: Her what?!

Philagrius: Just go with me on this, Hiero. She's got her really big gun out, and from behind a tree steps a former President's intern, and she says, you think that's a big...

Hierocles: Oh, this is the cigar joke again isn't it. *sighs* I wish you'd get some new material Phil.