Don’t cry, National Tell An Old Joke Day is here, celebrated each year on July 24! This day is a way to keep old jokes alive and kicking! Like every endangered species, old jokes need to be periodically vitalized, too. Spread cheer, share laughter, and reminisce about those old jokes everyone loves.
History of National Tell An Old Joke Day
Some people say the joke was invented in Greece. Others even believe it originated in mythological legend by a person called Palamedes. Since he was also credited with inventing numbers, the alphabet, lighthouses, dice, and the practice of eating meals at regular intervals, we won’t hesitate to adopt this particular theory as the truth. Facts verify that the Greeks, were, in fact, a humorous lot. In the Athens of Demosthenes, there existed a comedians’ club called the Group of Sixty. They met in the Temple of Heracles and traded wisecracks. Apparently, Alexander the Great’s father, Philip II of Macedon, commissioned a book of their jokes. The very first joke book ever found was also from Greece. Titled “Philogelos,” or “Laughter-Lover,” it contains 264 jokes, several of which appear twice, in slightly different forms. Historians suggest this means the book is actually two jokebooks combined, given that it is attributed to two authors, Hierocles and Philagrius. The jokes in this book are famously spare and include gems like, “How shall I cut your hair?” a talkative barber asked a wag. “In silence!” the wag answered.
The Ancient Romans, too, had their ‘jestbooks.’ The playwright Titus Maccius Plautus often referenced these in his plays, while the Roman historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus mentions a professor of the emperor Augustus, who compiled more than 150 jokes anthologies.
“Philogelos” was misplaced during the Dark Ages and humor was kept alive only in the Arab world. As they spread around the world, so too did their satirical folktales and humor. As these folktales reached Europe, they split into two: one, the novel; the other, a shorter, more humorous anecdote.
The early Renaissance brought the joke back with the help of one man — Poggio Bracciolini. Secretary to eight popes, this Italian humanist was a passionate bibliophile, traveling throughout Europe in search of lost works. This influenced his satirical writing, which was compiled in a book called “Facetiae.” Filled with 273 jests, bons mots, puns, and humorous anecdotes, this book was heavily influenced by another club called the Bugiale, which functioned as a jokes club of sorts. Unfortunately, copies of “Facetiae” are hard to come by nowadays.
The first English jestbook even had a sample of Poggio’s jokes and, by the time Shakespeare came around, jestbooks were very popular. One more nudge was all the world needed to turn funny tales into a joke. It came in the form of 28 jokes from “Philogelos” being accidentally published in an edition of “Commentary on the Golden Words of Pythagoras.” This mistake meant the jokes were soon circulated throughout Europe. Thanks to their popularity, jokes became shorter and punchier.
The Georgian era brought gems like “Joe Miller’s Jests” — based on a notoriously gloomy London stage actor. Soon, by the 19th century, joke books began to be cleaned up and ribald language was removed. They became fillers in older forms of printed books and provided a source of enjoyment for anyone who read them.
National Tell An Old Joke Day timeline
A Sumerian proverb is thought to be the oldest joke ever told.
Titled “Philogelos,” this book has 264 jokes written in Greek — many modern jokes are based on this collection.
When the first joke book is misplaced, jokes vanish from common usage.
Italian scholar and an early Renaissance humanist, Poggio Bracciolini, writes “Facetiae”, a collection of humorous tales.
England's first book printer, William Caxton, adds many of Poggio's jokes into his translation of “Aesop,” creating the first jestbook in English.
“Joe Miller's Jests,” named after a famously gloomy London stage actor, becomes widely popular — so much so that the phrase 'Joe Miller' means a stale joke in this period.
Joke books are stripped of all ribald humor.
National Tell An Old Joke Day FAQs
When is National Tell A Joke Day?
National Tell A Joke Day is celebrated annually on August 16.
Is there an International Joke Day?
Yes, there is. International Joke Day is celebrated on July 1.
Is a jest a joke?
Multiple dictionaries list the terms ‘joke’ and ‘jest’ as synonyms.
How To Celebrate National Tell An Old Joke Day
Regale everyone with an old joke
The one about the chicken crossing the road. Any knock-knock joke ever made. There are plenty of memorable old jokes that any person would know. If you can't remember some hilarious ones, the internet can help you. There are plenty of free websites with loads of old jokes for you to try out. You can also go old school and buy/rent a joke book, in keeping with our 'old jokes' theme.
Watch something funny
If you have some free time, why not spend it watching your favorite comedian do their thing? You can plan a family TV night with a special marathon of the funniest comedy entertainment. Whatever you choose, take a break and enjoy the lightness such entertainment brings to life.
Read about the history of old jokes
You can start with a book about the old Greek comedy club, Group of Sixty, and its supposed commissioned volume. Called “Stop Me If You’ve Heard This,” author Jim Holt deep-dives into the club and the history of jokes themselves. You can ask for more recommendations from local libraries or check out different titles online.
5 Fun Facts About National Tell An Old Joke Day
The first written joke is … not delicate
The ancient Sumerian proverb that is widely believed to be the first joke ever written is actually about toilet humor.
The second joke is dirty, too
The second oldest recorded joke, from 1600 B.C. in ancient Egypt, involves lusty pharaohs on the Nile.
Humans laughed before they spoke
Scientists believe before lung strength allowed humans to talk to one another, laughter was their main way to relate.
Research highlights what jokes people like
Researchers at Oxford University analyzed the reactions of 55 undergraduates from the London School of Economics to 65 different jokes — the shorter jokes were more popular.
Joking makes you look confident
Data says people who make jokes, in any situation, even job interviews, are perceived as more confident than those who stay serious.
Why We Love National Tell An Old Joke Day
Keep the humor alive
Many old jokes have gotten lost in the annals of history, never to be heard of again. National Tell An Old Joke Day gives us a chance to change things around. We can dust off the joke books our grandparents gave us, and maybe find something even older. In the process, we discover just what made the world laugh back then and how this tradition has continued through the ages.
Laughter is the best medicine
Did you know laughter is really contagious? Sophie Scott, a neuroscientist at University College London, found that the premotor cortical region of the brain — which prepares the muscles in the face to move — activates when someone hears laughing sounds. Not only that, but regular laughter can help you burn up to 40 calories a day. This activity also improves immunity, helps regulate blood sugar levels, and improves sleep. All the more reason to grab that old joke book.
Make the world a happy place
The sole purpose of a joke is to tickle the funny bone (or so we assume). Even the silliest joke can elicit a smile from people. We don't know the creator of this day, but we assume at least part of their motivation was to spread a little more joy and laughter out in the world. We are happy to oblige!
National Tell An Old Joke Day dates