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The Original Joe Miller's Joke Book Has Been Unearthed - Is It Still Funny?

A recent dig in London discovered an original copy of "Joe Miller's Jokebook"

By Reid MoorePublished 7 months ago 5 min read
Joe Miller's Jokebook has been found in London (Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

Any comedian worth their salt has heard the one about Joe Miller's Joke Book.

It's an apocryphal tale, in which a stage actor named Joe Miller, a contemporary of William Shakespeare, compiled the first book of 12 jokes (then called "jests") and it became his lasting legacy.

From ancient times, the number 12 has been considered a mark of portent and import. There are 12 months in the year, 12 signs of the Zodiac and 12 musical notes in the scale. And, let's not forget that donuts taste better by the dozen.

So, naturally, Joe Miller thought 12 jokes were all that were needed to entertain any gathering, small or large, and to leave a witty mark for posterity.

Upon publication, Joe Miller's explanation for the dearth of humorous content supposedly went something like, "There are really only three jokes in the world. Be fortunate I added the other nine, which are just variations of the originals."

Alas, despite its popularity at the time, the original manuscript was thought to be lost forever.

But, in 1739, an author named John Mottley published a compendium which added more than 200 jokes to the list and, since then, subsequent publications and re-issues have brought the total to over 1500.

Unfortunately, there hasn't been a way to verify the three original jokes (or the nine variations on a theme) Joe Miller first immortalized in print, since no copies have survived the ravages of time. 

Until now...

Recently, a startling discovery was made while archaeologists carefully dug in an excavation site prior to the erection of a new parking garage in Central London. It seemed the pit was once the location of a medieval library which was leveled to the ground long after Joe Miller's death and has been rebuilt over many times throughout the centuries since.

In it was found an original copy of Joe Miller's Joke Book, along with many other buried treasures and artefacts. But, they all pale in comparison.

Because, it's now possible to learn what Joe Miller hoped to teach all who came after him: There are really only three jokes and all others are just versions of the originals.

So, it's with great pleasure we reveal the three jests contained in the original Joe Miller's Joke Book, followed by their nine variations.

And, we have come to a conclusion, which by the end of this reading, you may also agree with:

Now we know why Joe Miller's Joke Book was buried for so long...

The Original Three Jests From Joe Miller's Joke Book:

A Mathematics teacher had been married without being able to get his wife with child. One acquaintance said to her "Madam, your husband is renowned as an excellent Arithmetician." "Yes" said she, "only he can't multiply." 

A man, who claimed he'd seen a ghost, was asked what the spirit said to him. “How should I understand what he said? I am not skilled in any of the dead languages.”

When a certain nobleman was being escorted to the gallows for a crime he had committed, he annoyed his guards on the long walk from the jail to the execution site by complaining about the miserable rainy weather. He kept this up for some time, until one of the guards said, very loudly, “You should have no cause for complaint m'Lord. Look at us. We have to walk all the way back."

The Nine Variations Of Jests From The Original Joe Miller's Joke Book:

A gentleman said of a young lady, who was known by the lawyers of the town, that, "If she had as much law in her head as she had  in her tail she would be the ablest counsel in England."

Two brothers were to be executed for a terrible crime and the elder was hanged first without saying a word. The other began to harangue the crowd, who were expecting a confession from him. "Good people," says he, "my brother hangs before me and you see what a lamentable spectacle he makes. I shall soon be hanged too. And then you'll see a pair of spectacles." 

When Cromwell first coined his money, an old Cavalier read the inscriptions. On one side was written "God Is With Us" and on the obverse, "The Commonwealth of England." "I see," said the Cavalier, "God and the Commonwealth are on different sides." 

A gentleman lent money to a person in whose promises he had not much faith. He was very much surprised, therefore, to find the man punctually kept his word while paying back the loan. The same gentleman later was desirous of borrowing the like sum. "No," said the first, "you have deceived me once and I am resolved you shan't do it a second time." 

A clergyman was preaching an exceedingly dull sermon to a congregation not used to him. Many of them slunk out of the church one after another, before the sermon was ended. "Truly," said a gentleman present, "this learned preacher had a moving discourse."  

The Lord Dorset asked a Bishop why he conferred Orders on so many blockheads. "Oh, my Lord," says the Bishop, "'tis better the ground should be plowed by asses than lie untilled." 

Someone once asked Lord Bacon what he thought of poets. "Why," said he, "I think them the very best writers. Next to illiterates."

A lady's age happened to be in question. She affirmed she was but 40, and called upon a gentleman for his opinion. "Sir," said she, "do you believe me when I say I am but 40?" "I ought not to dispute it, Madam," said he, "for I have heard you say so many times these last ten years."

And, finally...

Two shepherds, conversing by their common fence, discoursed over recent events when one asked the other, "What has become of your old sheepdog?" To which the second replied, "A challenger to his leadership bit off his nose in a ferocious battle for dominion." Queried the first, "How does he smell?" "Awful" said the second.

What do you think? Are Joe Miller's jokes still funny?

Leave a comment below!


About the Creator

Reid Moore

I am a Freelance Writer living in Riverside California who writes on a wide variety of topics including News, Politics, Popular Culture, Science, Music, Fiction, Poetry and Art.

Read More by Reid Moore!

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