Vulture presents a lengthy (and very funny) annotated history of "100 jokes that shaped modern comedy," with embedded audio (and sometimes video) of the jokes themselves, going all the way back to 1906's Nobody by Bert Williams -- transferred from wax cylinder to shellac disc to Youtube.
The histories of these jokes are erudite and informative but equally impressive is the embedded media. It gives you the sense that we're approaching an age when all of human culture is a single click away -- though of course, it may be that the author gamed the system by only choosing jokes whose source material was available.
It an impressively broad list, both obscure and well-known material, from Chaplain's dinner-roll dance and Lenny Bruce's "How to Relax Your Colored Friends at Parties" to "Dick Gregory on Segregated Restaurants" and Redd Foxx's "Pickpockets vs. Peeping Toms."
The Hip Cucko
“They waited ten minutes, 15 minutes, 20 minutes, half-hour, 45 minutes. Finally, the cucko, you know, oozed out. Had his dark glasses on. Looked at him and said, ‘Man, what time is it?’”
At a time when most comedians of color were relegated to finding success only on the Chitlin’ Circuit, thanks to killer appearances on The Ed Sullivan Show and The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, mainstream audiences welcomed a “dirty old lady” stand-up named Moms Mabley into their homes with open arms. It’s unclear whether Mabley’s cuckoo-clock bit preceded her as a stock joke that she made her own or whether she originated the joke that would later be covered by comedy greats such as George Kirby and Redd Foxx, but Moms was the one to put the joke on the map. Mabley’s unmistakable cadence and uniquely gravelly timbre took a piece of unquestionably hilarious writing on a subject (successfully hiding marijuana in a cuckoo clock during a police raid, after which time the cuckoo gets high and forgets or neglects to coo for hours) that at the time would have been considered indelicate at best, and elevated it from just a solid joke to something that wouldn’t be out of place performed on the bluest comedy show you could find.
The 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy [Jesse David Fox/Vulture]