One of the most famous jokes of all time is actually more of an anti-joke, since the punchline is really just a straightforward response to a question. Possibly its earliest print appearance is in the 1847 magazine The Knickerbocker:
"There are `quips and quillets' which seem actual conundrums, but yet are none. Of such is this: `Why does a chicken cross the street?' Are you `out of town?' Do you `give it up?' Well, then: `Because it wants to get on the other side!'"
This joke's exact origin is unknown, but it is considered an American folk riddle, and first appeared in a book of folk riddles in 1917. It's often referred to as the "Newspaper riddle" (although hopefully not until after the joke is told, otherwise it kind of spoils the punchline).
Originally called the Snake Jam Jar, this prank was created in 1915 by novelty inventor Samuel Sorenson Adams after his wife complained about him improperly closing their jam jar. It was a huge success, and the snakes eventually moved from jars of jam to jars of other products. So if you've ever been hungry for some delicious peanut brittle but were too afraid to open the can, now you know who to blame.
You've probably heard variations of this riddle: "What is the creature that walks on four legs in the morning, two legs at noon and three in the evening?" The riddle dates back to Greek Mythology, which stated that either Hera or Ares sent the Sphinx from Ethiopia to guard the Greek city of Thebes. The Sphinx would asked all passers-by the riddle, and devoured those who answered incorrectly. Oedipus was able to give the correct answer, "Man," which caused the Sphinx to die.
Exclaiming "Not!" to sarcastically negate a previous statement may have been popularized by "Wayne's World" on Saturday Night Live, but it existed for years before then, including in the Gilda Radner-Bill Murray "Nerds" sketches of the '70s. In fact, the first printed appearance of a "Not" joke appears to be in the humor magazine Princeton Tiger, which included the phrase "An Historical Parallel ”” Not" way back in 1893.
Despite what you may have seen in cartoons or on the Batman TV show, the Joy Buzzer does not produce an actual electric shock. Instead, it simply vibrates when an unsuspecting person tries to shake your hand. The Joy Buzzer was invented in 1928 by Soren Sorensen Adams (the snake in a can guy), who got a patent for it in 1932, and it became a quick success. And to this day, Joy Buzzers are purchased everywhere by all of the world's uncles.
Henny Youngman's classic one-liner, in which "please" is used in place of "for example," came about when he took his wife to a radio show in the 1930s. Henny asked an usher to escort his wife to her seat, but the request was interpreted as a joke to actually take his wife. Despite the constant jokes, Henny and his wife actually remained married until her death in 1987.
"In America, you break law. In Soviet Russia, law breaks you!"
These jokes showing perceived differences between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. are often credited to comedian Yakov Smirnoff, who rose to prominence in the 1980s. However, Smirnoff actually rarely used these jokes. (Instead, his popular catchphrase was "What a country!") The first Russian reversal joke probably goes back to the 1960s, and became popular on the show Laugh-In. On that show, the character Piotr Rosmenko, the Eastern European Man, would say jokes like, "Here in America, is very good, everyone watch television. In old country, television watches you!"
"That's what she said" (often uttered by Michael Scott on the American version of The Office) appears to have evolved from the British phrase "As the actress said to the bishop" (often uttered by David Brent on the British version of The Office). The "...she said" version was also said by Wayne from Wayne's World in the '90s, but dates back to at least the '70s. Meanwhile, the "bishop" version appears to go back to the early 1900s (according to A Dictionary of Catch Phrases), and appears in the 1928 novel Meet the Tiger(the first of the series of "The Saint" books). So it may be old, but it's still effective. That's what she said.
Absurdist elephant jokes, such as "Why did the elephant sit on the marshmallow?" first became popular in the 1960s and are still told today. In 1960, L.M. Becker Co. released a series of trading cards, simply called "Elephant Jokes," with a question on the front and an answer on the back. The jokes then spread across the country and were often printed in newspapers.
(The answer, in case you didn't know, is, "Because he didn't want to fall in the hot chocolate.")
The Limerick is a five-line poem with an A-A-B-B-A rhyme scheme that's often humorous in nature (and sometimes very dirty). The first printed Limerick dates back not to Ireland, but to a prayer by Italian Friar Thomas Aquinas. By 1846, Limericks became quite popular thanks to British poet Edward Lear. However, the poems weren't actually referred to as Limericks until 1880.
You'd think that throwing a pie in someone's face would be as old as pie itself (going back to Ancient Egypt and Ancient Greece). Instead, it originated with early 20th century slapstick comedy, likely first being seen in the 1909 silent film Mr. Flip.
For light bulb jokes, in which a person is asked how many people of a certain ethnicity or profession are needed to change a light bulb, the exact origin is unknown. However, they first gained widespread popularity in the 1960s, usually with jokes about Polish people, and eventually led to jokes about just about any group someone could think of. So how many comedians does it take to invent a joke about changing a light bulb? We're not completely sure! (Sorry if that punch-line seemed anti-climatic.)
"The elephant and the hippopotamus were taking a bath. And the elephant said to the hippo, 'Please pass the soap.' The hippo replied, 'No soap, radio.'"
Get it? Let's hope not, because it's not really a joke. Instead, it's a prank where the joke-teller and other conspirators try to convince someone that this nonsensical punchline is actually hilarious. No one knows exactly where the joke originated, but "no soap" was used as a nonsense phrase dating back to English dramatist Samuel Foote in the 1750s. Some speculate that the joke evolved from 1930s radio stations who would proudly declare that they don't broadcast soap operas.
"A (blank) walks into a bar" is such a well-known joke setup, it's hard to believe that the first printed bar joke goes back to just 1952. That's when, according to Ultimate Book of Jokes, C. B. Palmer wrote what could be the first bar joke in an article for the New York Times. Ever since then, priests, rabbis and ministers can't hang out together without people waiting for something funny to happen.
This phrase was popularized by Pee-wee Herman, but according to Wikitionary, it dates back to at least the early '70s. We know you'd love to have some more specific details, but if you love it so much, why don't you marry it? (We also couldn't find the specific origin of "If you love it so much, why don't you marry it?")
The Whoopee Cushion was created in 1920 by employees of the JEM Rubber Co. who were experimenting with leftover pieces of rubber. They then took their creation to novelty inventor Samuel Sorenson Adams (yes, the same one who made the Joy Buzzer and Jam Jar Snakes)...who refused to sell it for being "too vulgar." So they instead took the Whoopee Cushion to the mail-order Johnson-Smith Company, who sold it with great success. Realizing his mistake, Adams decided to sell his own version of the product, the "Razzberry Cushion."
Can an Internet meme from 2007 really be considered a classic joke? That's up for debate, but at least it's so recent that its origin can be easily traced. Rather than explain where Rickrolling comes from, we recommend that you read all about it by clicking here.
(Seriously, click there. It explains it. For real. What do you think this is, a joke?)