Biography of the Father of Modern Humor Joseph Miller Part 2

About the father of modern humor Joseph Miller, biography of an illiterate English actor who wrote Joe Miller's Jests, the most influential joke or comedy book ever.

JOSEPH MILLER (1684-1738). Father of modern humor.

The slender, 72-page volume, printed by T. Read of Fleet Street, containing 247 original quips, was sold in 1739 for one shilling a copy, went into 8 editions, and was thus secured to posterity. Most of the jokes were based on humor derived from calling one's rival an ass, on the absentmindedness of parsons, on the curse of matrimony, or on the blunders of Irishmen. Of the entire 247 original jokes, only 3 actually mentioned Joe Miller himself. One of these 3 reads:

"There is the story of a midshipman told one night, in company with Joe Miller and myself, who said, that being once in great danger at sea, everybody was observed to be upon their knees, but one man, who being called upon to come with the rest of the hands to prayers, not I, said he, it is your business to take care of the ship, I am just a passenger."

The book sold and sold, and the number of its jokes grew and grew, until an edition issued 50 years ago contained 1,564 quips, all credited to Joe Miller.

Today, the contents of the original seem at once crude, unfunny, familiar. A typical excerpt:

"Daniel Purcel, the famous punster, calling for some pipes in a tavern, complained they were too short. The Drawer said they had no other, and those were but just come in. Ay, said Daniel, I see you have not bought them very long."

Another typical excerpt:

"A famous teacher of Arithmetic, who had long been married without being able to get his wife with child--One said to her, Madam, your husband is an excellent Arithmetician. Yes, replied she, only he can't multiply."

And a 3rd and more censorable sample:

"A little dastardly half-witted Squire, being once surprised by his rival in his mistress' chamber, of whom he was terribly afraid, desired for God's sake to be concealed, but there being no closet or bed in the room, nor indeed any place proper to hold him, but an India chest the lady put her clothes in. They locked him in there. His man, being in the same danger with himself, said, rather than fail, he could creep under the maid's petticoats. Oh, you silly dog, says his master, that's the commonest place in the house."

The entire 247 jokes represent the 1st published professional humor. They remain the foundation of all modern movie, radio, television, stage, and drawing-room stories.

To appreciate Mr. Miller's contribution fully, to realize how much his collection continues to be the comedian's Koran, note how a modern joke evolves from a basic one in his book.

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