Victorian jokes, to borrow a phrase, are no laughing matter.
Ok, I’ll re-word that. Victorian jokes are no laughing matter to 21st century ears.
There are many obvious things that have changed down the centuries. Indeed, technology raced at an incredible pace in the 20th century and since.
Someone born before the Wright brothers made their first powered flight could easily have watched the first Moon landing on their black-and-white TV. My grandmother used to marvel that you could play music on a ‘gazette recorder’ (as she called it). No need to spell out how quaint that seems just a few decades later.
One less-obvious thing to have changed down the years though is humour.
Ok, so any student of Shakespeare is aware that what had Elizabethan audiences rolling in the aisles doesn’t have the same effect today. There are 28,500,000 results for the search ‘Shakespeare comedies not funny’! We can still enjoy the tales of misunderstanding and deception and women pretending to be their brothers. But, they can seem a bit light on actual jokes.
For instance, in Measure for Measure, the line: “Marrying a punk, sire, is pressing to death, whipping, and hanging” is presumably a joke. (‘punk’ being slang for ‘prostitute,’ by the way). It’s hard for us to tell today.
But, it’s a lot more recent than that. And that’s not just Victorian jokes.
I was once given a video (remember those?!) of old Warner Brothers cartoons from the 1940s. Porky Pig, Daffy Duck, the Looney Tunes gang. There were allusions to things (and people) that meant nothing to me. But even allowing for that, they were (to me) simply not funny.
To illustrate the point, here are some (finally!) Victorian jokes.
Lovers are not necessarily alike because they correspond.
Fire is a good servant. but it is apt to go out at night, just like the other servants.
Wife : “Darling, there goes a man whom I refused once.” Husband: “Oh, where? I would like to congratulate him.”
More Victorian jokes, if you can bear it
“Oh, Bridget! I told you to notice when the pot boiled over.” “Shure I did, mum. It was a quarter past 11.”
Tourist: “The houses in some of the ancient cities had walls ten feet thick.•’ Mr. Brickrow (enviously): “I presume some of the neighbours were musical.”
Mistress (greatly scandalised) : “Is it possible you are making bread without having washed your hands.” “Lor what’s the difference, mum! It’s brown bread.”
“Doctor,” said the substantial citizen to the young physician. “I owe you my life… I was taken suddenly ill two days ago, and my wife sent for you—and you were not in.”
An American girl got Paderewski to give her three of his photographs. One,” she explained. “to hang up in my bedroom, one to carry with me always, and one to paste inside our piano to improve the tone.”
” What does your Auxiliary Society at the church do?” asked Mr. Hawkins of Mrs. Hawkins, when that good lady returned from the meeting. “We take the garments made by the Young Women’s Guild and make them fit to wear,” replied Mrs. Hawkins.
I asked the young woman in front of me to remove her big hat so that I could see the stage. “Did she do it?” “No ; she said if she held her hat in her hand she couldn’t see the stage herself.”
- Should you care to read more Victorian jokes, there’s a further post here. You have been warned!