Sunday 10 May 2009

A brief history of Jokes (Part I)

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word liked a joke. But for many billions of years nothing happened, nothing at all, until finally there were some planets and suns. Planets and suns make their own kind of jokes (see Olaf Stapledon: Starmaker) but in their own slow, cumbersome, predictable sort of way, which wasn’t really what the Word was after. Finally, however, Life began to emerge out of the Primordial ooze.

On reflection (said the Word) when the first amphibian crawled out of the water onto the land, that was pretty funny. It had the hallmarks of incongruity and surprise: Something from the water crawling on the land! Nothing like that had ever happened before! But it wasn’t much to be getting on with for yet more millions of years. And then, for 160 million years, dinosaurs ruled the Earth. There were still no jokes. (Are you beginning to feel a bit sorry for the Word yet?)

Of course, some pretty hilarious things happened while the dinosaurs were ruling the Earth. First, there was the question of scale: some of the dinosaurs were tiny, and some of them were huge! When a really small dinosaur stood next to a really big one, that could be quite funny. Also, there were some very entertaining pratfalls. Once, there was this time, around 65 million years ago, when a tyrannosaurus was chasing a triceratops, and the triceratops tripped, did a complete flip and landed upside down, on its back! That was pretty hilarious. And then there were all those times when smaller dinosaurs ran into trees ...

But, all in all, the Word was pretty happy when a cataclysmic event wiped the dinosaurs off the face of the Earth. He’d had enough of them, I don’t know, about 150 million years previously. Also, during this period, he’d realised that, no matter how funny something is, you need someone to tell about it for it to stay funny. (Things aren’t that funny when you’re on your own.) So, when tiny shrew-like creatures climbed up into the trees, and left their other shrew-like brethren on the ground, the Word thought: Thank God. At least, it’s a start.

No comments: