"Books are the plane, and the train, and the road. They are the destination, and the journey. They are home."
- Anna Quindlen
Each issue of Lapham's Quarterly includes dozens of brief excerpts from historical literature on a particular topic. Spanning time, geography, form, and theme, each edition provides an interesting look humanity's evolving conceptualization of various universals - such as animals, youth, death, lust, and politics.
Comedy is an interesting subject because it's so culturally dependent. There isn't much that is universally funny, except for maybe poop and sex - which come up quite a bit in here. So I didn't enjoy this issue as much as I have others, just because not much of it was particularly funny to me. Even the modern stuff often wasn't to my taste - when the very first selection is Sarah Silverman trying to justify using the word "Chink" in a routine, it isn't a good sign. Worst fucking comedian working today.
Still, there's a lot of variety in here, from modern comedy routines to bawdy Roman poetry, from Freud's psychoanalysis of humor itself to a fascinating biography of Charlie Chaplin. There were enough pieces I enjoyed to outweigh the boring and awful ones.
Some snippets I liked:
In Florence, a young woman, somewhat of a simpleton, was on the point of being delivered. She had long been enduring acute pain, and the midwife, candle in hand, inspected her private parts, in order to ascertain if the child was coming. "Look also on the other side," said the poor creature. "My husband has sometimes taken that road."
Buttsex! Funny since at least 1452.
During the night a numbskull got into bed with his grandmother. When his father beat him on account of this, he said, "You've been screwing my mother for a long time without any trouble from me, and now you're angry at finding me with your mother just once?"
Incest! Funny since at least ancient Greece.
I'm a strange creature, for I satisfy women,
a service to the neighbors! No one suffers
at my hands except for my slayer.
I grow very tall, erect in a bed,
I'm hairy underneath. From time to time
a beautiful girl, the brave daughter
of some churl dares to hold me,
grips my russet skin, robs me of my head,
and puts me in the pantry. At once that girl
with plaited hair who has confined me
remembers our meeting. Her eye moistens.
English riddle, circa 975. The answer, of course, is "onion".
Something which never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap.
The oldest known joke, from Sumeria, circa 2300-1900 BC. I don't think it's held up very well.