Sunday, August 16, 2009

the unfunny father of humor

Every month the management staff of my apartment building slips a bulletin under each tenant's door to let us know about holiday celebrations, shopping excursions for the senior citizens, "movie night," and other community events originating in the building. The bulletin is often padded out with "this date in history" trivia that's always worth reading, including the following factoid:

Aug. 16—The Original Funny Man. By many accounts, English comic actor Joseph (or Josias) Miller of London's Drury Lane Theatre was a popular favorite, known for his boisterous wit. When he died on this date in 1738, leaving his family in poverty, his friend John Mottley decided to collect all the jokes attributed to Miller and publish them. The proceeds from the book were to go to Miller's family. Joe Miller's Jests, first published in 1739, was 70 pages long, contained 247 jokes, and represented the first published professional humor. After numerous revisions and expansions, it contained more than 1,500 jokes that some experts cite as the foundation of all modern movie, television, radio and stage humor. Some are reluctant to give Miller all the credit, however; they say Miller wasn't a true comedian at all, but that he was always credited with everyone else's wit. According to one historian, Miller's friends gave him credit for jokes because he was actually quite grave and humorless.

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