Blogs > Cliopatria > The Joke's On Us ...

Feb 16, 2005 5:04 am

The Joke's On Us ...

Eighteen months ago at History News Network, my colleague, Jonathan Dresner, asked about history jokes or jokes involving historians, i. e., if anyone knew of any good ones. The results were pretty slim. Jonathan contributed this one about how many historians it takes to change a light bulb. Susan Rosenfeld came up with an archives joke. Theresa Lynch recalled a New Yorker cartoon about revisionist historians. And googling harvested these four for me, one of which Jonathan improved. The results didn't speak very well for our sense of humor or the public's sense of humor in history.

Someone gave me a copy of Jon Stewart's America (The Book): A Citizen's Guide to Democracy Inaction for Christmas. Except for the infamous photograph of the Supremes in the buff, I thought it too was fairly lame, too. If you broaden the search, though, google has improved with time. Here are another eleven knee slappers, Ancient Rome Jokes, Richard Lederer's Student History Bloopers, and a whole raft of USA History jokes. Greg at A Journey Through Time points to"GQ's list of the 100 Funniest Jokes of All Time." The title itself is ridiculous, of course, because humor itself changes over time and differs from place to place. Still, I thought #100 was pretty good:"I went to a restaurant with a sign that said they served breakfast at any time. So I ordered French toast during the Renaissance."

If you're going to use jokes in class, I recommend being very discriminating about them. Though I may have forgotten much else that he said, I still remember one of George Tindall's jokes thirty years after he told it in class. William Jennings Bryan was out on the campaign trail, as usual. He came to a farm where he was to address a crowd and there was no ready-made speaker's stand. So he climbed up on the nearest farm machine, a manure spreader."This is the first time I've ever spoken from a Republican platform," he said. Now, if you've got one that beats all of the above, let's have it in comments! Don't be shy.

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Greg James Robinson - 2/19/2005

I used to use the line Samuel Eliot Morison put in his OXFORD HISTORY OF THE AMERICAN PEOPLE thating that (according to oral tradition) at the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Elbridge Gerry of Massachusetts, an opponent of standing armies, said that a standing army was like a standing male member: "an excellent guarantee of domestic felicity, but a terrible temptation to foreign adventure."
My favorite Richard Nixon story from the Haldeman Diaries (and by the way I am EXTREMELY grateful for the Nixon and LBJ materials--kudos to the archivists and their fight!) is that in which Nixon recounts his experience that day at a press conference where he was asked what he thought about when he woke up in the middle of the night. Nixon answered "I think about peace." He told Haldeman, however, that he wished he could gave given a more honest answer, that when he woke in the middle of the night he thought about what everybody else thinks about--going to the john.

Jonathan Dresner - 2/17/2005

For the record, I've made that suggestion as well to others. Got roundly thrashed for it last time, as I recall. Though conversations wander naturally, one of the things about having a blog is that you are the one who gets to, at least, control how the conversations start.

chris l pettit - 2/17/2005

I just saw an article of interest, and posted it. There has been a discussion at HNN lately about the usages of there very well should be.

DC's posting on the oil for food program and the UN over at Rebunk was a prime example of exactly what the Guardian article touched on...the manipulation of history and dissemination of disinformation, or selective cherry picking of historical fact to fit an ideology. There is no legal positivism involved DC, although your brick wall approach is admirable...are you ready to post our email exchange yet? Or still scared of being rebuked? Quickly, as I have a lecture to give...I am not defending the officials implicated in the scandal...they should be prosecuted...but the UN as an institution should not come under fire in any way shape or form. it is the US, along with others in the P5 who cause the real damage to the UN. THe "rogue states" certainly play their part in their aversion to international law, but the US in particular leads them all in violations of international law, violations of the UN Charter, and destruction of the framework of the international community. When one examines the history of the UN, this fact is simply inescapable...unless one wants to make a blind ideological argument (yes it can be positivist DC, should you like it to be). If we tear apart the UN because of this scandal...using the logic used by those who make the argument, we should also dismantle the governments of those nations who allowed their oil companies and business interests to skirt the program and either commit illegalities or get through loopholes (the US, the UK, France, among others). One forgets that it was the responsibility of the US and the P5 to monitor and maintain the program, and yet you don;t see DC saying anything about the problems with is all about the Secretariat and problems stemming from that approach that is a bright line indicator of how little DC actually knows about the legal structuring of the UN, the oil for food program, and the responsibilities of ALL parties involved...or, in the alternative...if he does know of the structuring scheme, it shows his blind ideology and willful manipulation of facts to suit his purpose...again, going directly to the core of the article I noticed and suggested.

So where is the problem?


Derek Charles Catsam - 2/16/2005

Um, Chris -- how about sacking up and addressing the substance over at Rebunk rather than making another of these broad idiotic generalizations. My silliness about the UN? My silliness in which I decry the oil for food scandal? Silliness indeed.
I await another 700 word exegesis on why you don't like legal positivism.
You cannot even effectively be irrelevant in your irrelevance.


Ralph E. Luker - 2/16/2005

Thanks, Tom, for the clarification. It did seem oddly placed, but I suppose that happens in lieu of having an e-mail address for someone. Would you mind to send me yours? I lost it. Send it to ralphluker AT mindspring DOT com.

Tom Bruscino - 2/16/2005

I think it is pretty clear that I was just making a suggestion to Chris Pettit, so that when he has comments like this one they don't seem so out of place. Does that make it more clear?

Ed Schmitt - 2/16/2005


Maarja Krusten - 2/16/2005

My favorite line about Richard Nixon comes, if I remember correctly, for the published diary of his chief of staff H. R. Haldeman. (I've described elsewhere, on POTUS, my contacts in the 1980s with Bob Haldeman.) Nixon grumped that he would really enjoy the job of being President, if only he didn't have to deal with people. Hmmm, maybe some of us feel that way on our jobs occasionally, as well, LOL.

As you all know, I spent 14 years screening Richard Nixon's tapes to see what could be released to the public and what required restriction under the Presidential Recordings and Materials Preservation Act. When you professors cite stories about a President's humanity to your students, I hope you also provide a glimpse to your students of what it takes to get such materials released. (Some of the battles are described in Sy Hersh's 12/14/92 story in the New Yorker, Jack Hitt's 1994 article in Harper's ("Nixon's Last Trump"). The bloody battles we at the National Archives went through with Nixon's lawyers show why you shouldn't take such disclosures for granted. LBJ's tapes were administered under pre-Watergate private controls, rather than a federal statute, so they fell under a Presidentially-imposed 50 year restriction. Dr. Beschloss was able to gain access to them early, thanks to Lady Bird Johnson.

For the less funny side of the LBJ tapes, check out Michael Beschloss's comments at
. They show a President's humanity, for sure, but some of what is on the released LBJ tapes is pretty sobering.

Ralph E. Luker - 2/16/2005

Chris Pettit's suggestions are welcome at Cliopatria. I'm unclear about why other people feel the need to tell him what to do.

Ed Schmitt - 2/16/2005

Those are really good. You could fill a class with LBJ anecdotes. Did you ever hear the actual recording (available on the Beschloss Taking Charge collection) of him ordering pants from the president of the Haggar Co.? Priceless, and again it really humanizes history for undergrads.

Tom Bruscino - 2/16/2005


It really isn't hard to get your own weblog so you can write whatever it is you want.


Lisa Roy Vox - 2/16/2005

I tell some bad history jokes in my survey classes for cheap laughs, I'll admit. One is about how reticent Calvin Coolidge was.....Coolidge was at a dinner party and a woman sat down next to him and said, "I have a bet with my friends that I can get more than two words out of you." Coolidge turned to her and replied, "You lose." And said nothing else for the rest of the evening.

I tell terrible, terrible jokes about LBJ. One is the anecdote that John Kenneth Galbraith told about a comment LBJ made to him once (that I think a class filled with a lot of business majors can appreciate): "Did it ever occur to you that making a speech on economics is just like pissing down your leg? It seems hot to you, but not to anybody else."

Sharon Howard - 2/16/2005

There has been a British reggae band around for some decades now: Edward II and the Red Hot Pokers.

Well, it always cracks me up. Good music too.

chris l pettit - 2/16/2005,3604,1415471,00.html

THought it was an interesting commentary...and could be an interesting post. The commentary could be expanded to include historical spinning of the UN (see DC's silliness over at Rebunk) and other rah rahing...I especially like the comparison the the ministry of (dis)information...


Ralph E. Luker - 2/16/2005

Yep. I'd agree that it's in poor taste. There are a whole bunch of those, like Pontius Pilot and the Nail Driving Five.

Ed Schmitt - 2/16/2005

Other items (such as t-shirts) bear the motto "Knocking 'Em Dead for Over Forty Years" and the backstory goes like this:
"Look closely at the picture on the shirts and other products. The picture captures an impromptu jam session in the basement of Dallas Police Headquarters the night of November 24, 1963. Lee Harvey Oswald was assembling his band Grassy Knoll, with nightclub owner Jack Ruby on lead guitar and Dallas Police officer Jim Leavelle on keyboards."

Ed Schmitt - 2/16/2005

A student shared this with me (not to blame my posting of this on him).

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