25 January 2007

So quiet you could hear a pun drop

There was a report on BBC Breakfast news about Victorian jokes. I caught this one which must have had them rolling in the aisles in the 1850s:

"What’s the difference between a rowing boat and Joan of Arc?
One is made of wood and the other is Maid of Orleans"

Hmmmm, I thought and carried on drinking my coffee.

The actual story is a little more interesting (to me anyway!) and is about the discovery of a Victorian comedian's private joke book. The book which was uncovered by Dr Anne Featherstone, a lecturer in performance history at the University of Manchester, contains a handwritten record of jokes used by a circus clown, Tom Lawrence, in the 1850s.

Victorian stand-ups, dressed in the "grotesque and gorgeous" outfits of a clown, would deliver jokes about useless husbands and bad-tempered wives, violent policemen, railway crashes and the hardships faced by the poor. It seems that Victorians liked clever word-play and punning: "Bad husbands are like bad coals - they smoke, they go out, and they don't keep the pot boiling."

"It's mostly gentle humour - but some of the misogynistic stuff is quite vicious” said Doctor Featherstone. “There's one where he says 'ave you seen my girlfriend's bonnet, I gave her that? Have you seen her jacket, I gave her that. Have you seen her eyes? Yes, they were both black. And the clown says - yes, I gave her those."

The police were also the butt of jokes: "This town is paraded with policemen in blue, They carry a mighty big staff and make use of it too. They batter your sconce in for pleasure, In the station house poke you for fun, They take all your money and treasure - And fine you five bob when they've done!"

So who would I go for? The late, great Bill Hicks or the late Tom Lawrence? I think Bill Hicks had the edge in the dead comedian stakes!

But that wasn’t the end to today’s gruesome puns. I have only recently started reading Terry Pratchett’s Discworld books and very entertaining they are too. However, he is certainly not above some ghastly puns himself. A short while later while on the train into London I came across this atrocity in “Soul Music” (In which Death seeks the meaning of life and a music with rocks in it becomes the toast of Ankh Morpork):

”Who’s the most famous horn player there ever was Glod”

“Brother Charnel” said the dwarf promptly “Everyone knows that. He stole the altar gold from the temple of Offler and had it made into a horn and played magical music until the gods caught up with him and pulled off his-“

“Right” said Buddy “but if you went out there now and asked who the most famous horn player is, would they remember some felonious monk or would they shout for Glod Glodson”



Steve Bates said...

Pratchett, describing Ankh-Morpork's historic great fire, describes part of a rioting mob breaking into a musical instrument store and carrying off instruments. One character... sorry, I can't remember which... has just one word for them: "Luters." GROAN!

Unfortunately, the pun "felonious monk" has been around a long time, since long before Pratchett, probably since the great, quirky piano man himself. These days, I believe there's even a blogger who uses that name.

Anonymous said...

Robert Rankin is a good source for appalling puns.

Of course I can't recall any off the top of my head... just read all the books.

Bryan said...

I knew you would get it, Jams.

"I'm on a mission from Glod" was my second favorite, but I've seen The Blues Brothers too many times.

jams o donnell said...

Luters? Noe that is plumbing the depthsm Steve! As was being on a message from Glod Bryan... oh and looking a bit elvish and all the other ones!

I am enjpying the Discworld jokes very much.. Monstrous regiment next (way out of synch I know but in the main I am working backwards)

I am no surprised the Felonious monk one is an oldie Steve.. Still it was a groan inducer!

Robert Ranking, now there is another writer I have never read. Being a fan of all things fortean, I really wonder why I haven't Skuds

elasticwaistbandlady said...

Sadly, I suffer from Victorian pun illiteracy. :( With your pledge of 100 dollars a month though, you can help bring joy and laughter into the life of a person who just doesn't "get it." Can I count on your support to wipe out this pervasive pun incompetency problem, jams?

jams o donnell said...

Oooh when you put it that way EWBL, how could I refuse?

Anonymous said...

"Good Omens" by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett. Read it and GROAN. It's hilarious!

jams o donnell said...

I'll be reading it pretty soon by looks of it Siv.. I'm getting through the Discworld books at a fair rate of knots and, Rincewind apart, I am enjoying them very much!