Biography of the Father of Modern Humor Joseph Miller Part 3

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.

In Joe Miller's Jests appears this story:

"A pragmatical young fellow sitting at table over against the learned John Scot, asked him what difference there was between Scot and Sot. Just the breadth of the table, answered the other."

Here, after more than 200 years, is what the joke has become:

"Once, when he was farming corn, Will Rogers found himself being relentlessly heckled by a neighbor. But Will refused to blow up. Finally the neighbor screamed at him, "Rogers, you're not far from a fool, are you?' 'Naw,' drawled Will, 'jest the fence between us.'"

Then there's another, refined over the years, which has been revised and revived by each new generation of comedians. If Joe Miller could tell the joke, in present-day vernacular, it would go about like this:

"I was traveling on the stagecoach between Bristol and London, and a young stranger was seated beside me. I pulled out my watch at one station and compared it with the station time. The stranger leaned over and asked, 'Say, mister, would you mind telling me the time?' I didn't answer him.

"At the next station I pulled out my watch again and compared it with the time. The stranger asked the same question again and still I didn't answer. At the next station, when the same thing happened a 3rd time, the stranger said, 'Sir, I don't mind if you refuse to tell me the time, but are you deaf or what is the reason for not answering me?'

"'Well, young man,' I said to him, 'It's this way. First you ask me the time. I tell you. Then you say it's a nice day. I agree. Then you say, "Maybe it'll rain tomorrow." And soon we get to talking, and I tell you I live in Bristol, and the next time you come around this part of the country, you stop to say hello. Then you meet my daughter, who's mighty pretty, and then you come around again, but this time it's to see her, not me. And before I know it you're telling me you love her and want to marry her--and mister, I'm telling you--I won't have any man marrying my daughter who can't afford a watch!'"

It was George Ade who insisted, "There are only 3 basic jokes, but since the mother-in-law joke is not a joke but a very serious question, there are only 2."

And the point is--both of them may be found in Joe Miller.

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