Puns, silly turns of phrase, and the groan-worthy Dad joke are not modern inventions. Plenty of text-based giggles were available before the meme took over the Internet. Whether you’re looking to lighten the mood, reconnect with a friend, or make a child laugh, here are a few historical favorites that are as effective now as ever.
Great for fans of The Good Place
“Immanuel isn’t a pun. He Kant be!”
Playwright and poet Oscar Wilde was known for his wry wit and creative puns. He once joked about the famous philosopher and Enlightenment thinker, Immanuel Kant. In Wilde’s joke, Kant’s name does double duty to jab at how seriously philosophers take their work.
How many does he want?
“A Roman walks into a bar.
“He holds up two fingers and says, ‘Five beers, please!’”
For those who need a visual interpretation, throw up your pointer and middle fingers to make the Roman numeral five (V).
The government is always a punchline
“In my many years, I have come to the conclusion that one useless man is a shame, two is a law firm, and three or more is a congress.”
Often misattributed to President John Adams, this humorous quote actually comes from the Broadway musical, 1776, by Peter Stone. In it, the future President throws out the line in Act 1, amid a sea of complaints about Congress.
Lying through wooden teeth
Q: “Why did George Washington have trouble sleeping?”
A: “Because he couldn’t lie.”
This joke might rely on the audience knowing which form of lay or lie to use, but puns with a double meaning will never go out of style.
A spring joke for Thanksgiving
Q: “If April showers bring May flowers, then what do May flowers bring?”
It might take a minute, but the audience will certainly give a groan when they realize the Mayflower was the ship that brought the pilgrims to the New World in 1620.
Drawing from history
“A Frenchman walks into a library and asks for a book on warfare.
“The librarian replies, ‘You’ll only lose it.’”
Whether warranted or not, France is the butt of many historical warfare jokes. Just avoid telling the joke at a French restaurant.
Campaign slogans are good for a laugh
When Democratic Presidential candidate Franklin Pierce ran for office in 1852, he took inspiration from his predecessor, James K. Polk.
Pierce’s campaign became, “We Polked You in ‘44, We Shall Pierce You in ‘52.”
The cheesy slogan might induce an eye roll, but it seemed to work, as Pierce was the next Democratic candidate to enter the White House.
Who said that?
“Denial ain’t just a river in Egypt.”
American humorist and writer Mark Twain is credited with many punny mottos, including this playful take on the Nile River in Egypt. There’s no proof that Twain ever uttered this particular phrase, but it has appeared in “Saturday Night Live” skits, in musician David Crosby’s autobiography, and in an op-ed about global warming by former Vice President Al Gore.