July 24 is an important date in human history. In 1911, explorer Hiram Bingham rediscovered Machu Pichu. In 1982, Survivor’s Eye of the Tiger began its six-week domination of the US charts. Inarguably, more importantly, July 24 also marks the date of Tell an Old Joke Day. With partners all over the world already rolling their eyes with excitement, this year’s celebrations could be the best yet.
Much like the smell coming from the back of your fridge, nobody really knows when and where Tell an Old Joke Day started. It’s possible that the originator scrubbed their name from the history books, lest they suffer the wrath of a world’s collective sighs.
It might also be true that it was the result of a population unusually high in older men, who had community restrictions based on their jokes to prevent the formation of a comedy black-hole. Regardless of the founding circumstances, the day is here to stay, and it won’t go gently into that good night.
If we don’t know the historical context, then why do we maintain the legacy? The answer is, of course, for fun. As much as can shake our heads at old jokes, there’s no denying that they play an important part in our humour’s repertoire. Some jokes are barely funny the first time, and, by drilling the same joke over time, we aim to cross the nebulous border of frustration into hilarity. Whether we succeed is something else entirely, but the importance is in the intent.
As for what type of old jokes you should employ, that very much depends on your audience. Historically, the oldest known recorded joke dates back to ancient Sumer in 1900 BC. Translated as “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”, this line still holds up as a banger.
That said, by ‘old joke’, we’re not necessarily talking in a chronological sense. Rather, an old joke should hold significance to both you and your audience. If you have an old joke about ye-olde farming equipment that fits within this context then that’s great, but, for most of us, finding an old joke means searching your memories for something more.
Remember an old joke that never landed or, even better, made everyone actively cringe. These are perfect starting places, but they aren’t your only choices. Getting less silly, old jokes could also be those from the people we love who are no longer with us, to continue their spirit. The only limits are that jokes should be old and that they shouldn’t be so bad as to trigger confrontation (uncle Steve we’re talking about you).
So, before the beloved and dreaded day arrives, make sure to scour your memory for the best and worst you have. Most importantly, know that being funny is only a small part of the equation and that real success lies in how much you can make the people you love groan in embarrassment.