1. I recall Theodore Sturgeon (I think) tracing a hypothetical string of events back from the present to prehistoric times, when Ugghh the caveman came up with the very first version of a joke that eons later caused someone in the present to laugh and thus be distracted from accomplishing something else important just at that moment (making a golf shot, I think).

    And decades ago when I read the SATYRICON of Petronius I was delighted to discover a clear early version of my favorite “travelling salesman and the farmer’s daughter” joke. Admittedly in the SATYRICON it was a tutor and his employer’s son, but — same build up, same punchline, nineteen hundred years before the one I’d heard.

    So, in this instance I don’t know, but I’d say when in doubt, bet that an old chestnut of a joke goes back even further than one would think plausible.

  2. True, but a hypothetical earlier version wouldn’t *have* to involve a telephone. Could be one guy overhearing his friend talking to a third party, with the friend’s share of the conversation being “You don’t say! You don’t say!” etc. After the third person walks off, the first guy asks his friend “Say, who WAS that fellow you were talking to?” and the usual punchline follows.

    Admittedly, it works better with a telephone, but I suspect Joe Miller would have found a primitive version recognizable as a joke-like-substance if it had been offered to him.

  3. Spike Jones & the Three Stooges have both used the same joke. I suspect it was hanging around Vaudeville for a while.

  4. ‘my favorite “travelling salesman and the farmer’s daughter” joke.’

    There have been so many metajokes about it that I still haven’t found the joke they’re making jokes about.

  5. Spike Jones and the Three Stooges?!

    Now there’s an act liked to have heard!

    Actually, when I read the comic the Spike Jones recording popped into mind. I got the LP record (Greatest Hits) as a child. I think I considered that joke corny, but I have thought it funny nonetheless.

  6. This strip shows what looks to be a rotary phone. As the strip began in 1907, it must have been recognized as an antique even then. The artist/artists ghosting for Fisher may have intentionally stuck to recognizably old and old-sounding gags to maintain the by-then nostalgic silliness. Note that while strips like Blondie update their worlds, the characters and the tenor of the jokes stay familiar to old readers.

  7. “This strip shows what looks to be a rotary phone. As the strip began in 1907, it must have been recognized as an antique even then.”

    Um, when do you think rotary phones went out of use? Some time in the 1960s I went to a science museum where they showed how much faster the not-yet-introduced push-button phones were than the rotary phones everyone currently had.

  8. @ Arthur – Rotary phones remained in service in the U.S. at least until my grandmother died (she refused multiple offers to switch to a “modern” phone).
    P.S. The German telephone system had a nasty “hybrid” version: it had the same sort of keypad as a touch-tone phone, but each keypress generated a series of clicks, just like a rotary phone. The problem was that you had to wait for the clicks to finish before pressing the next key, otherwise it would result in a wrong number. This meant that it actually took longer to dial, because there was no reliable (visible) cue to show when it was safe to press another key.

  9. I remember Red Ingle using this joke–twice–on Spike Jones’ version of “Chloe.” The second time around, the answer to “Who was it?” was “Same guy!”

  10. It’s not just Germany that had push-button pulse dialing. In the early days of Touch Tone, it was an extra-cost option. Many push-button phones had a pulse-dialing switch, in case the owner wasn’t paying for Touch Tone service. In fact, although It’s not currently plugged in, I have an AT&T brand TrimLine phone from the late 1980s with such a switch.

  11. My point, poorly expressed, was that when rotary phones were in use, Mutt and Jeff were already known as an Olde Tyme strip, which still delivered Olde Tyme gags while allowing what was then a modernism to keep it simple.

  12. @ jajizi – My objection was not to pulse dialing, but to the German implementation. I can’t remember exactly, but I never had the problem of fast keypresses corrupting the outgoing pulses with a U.S. phone.

  13. I collect (vaguely) obsolete jokes. One of them is from that era; (!) indicates parts of the joke that are dated.

    Family is eating dinner (!); phone rings (!). Maid (!) answers it, listens, says “Sure is!” and hangs up. Ten seconds later, it rings again; same thing. After the third time, the master of the house asks what’s going on.

    “Beats me! Some joker keeps calling and saying ‘Long distance from New York’!’ (!)

  14. My mom still has at least one rotary phone in her house – in the den, hanging on the wall.

    This joke was one of my dad’s favorites and it always made him laugh.

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