The 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy

Our hats are off to the good folks at Vulture for putting together this most informative  – and funny as hell – look into the humor of today!

pic by Giacomo Gambineri

by Jesse David Fox

The oldest joke on record, a Sumerian proverb, was first told all the way back in 1900 B.C. Yes, it was a fart joke: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.” Don’t feel bad if you don’t get it — something was definitely lost in time and translation (you have to imagine it was the Mesopotamian equivalent of “Women be shopping”), but not before the joke helped pave the way for almost 4,000 years of toilet humor. It’s just a shame we’ll never know the name of the Sumerian genius to whom we owe Blazing Saddles. But with the rise of comedy as a commercial art form in the 20th century, and with advances in modern bookkeeping, it’s now much easier to assign credit for innovations in joke-telling, which is exactly what Vulture set out to do with this list of the 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy.

A few notes on our methodology: We’ve defined “joke” pretty broadly here. Yes, a joke can be a one-liner built from a setup and a punch line, but it can also be an act of physical comedy. Pretending to stick a needle in your eye, or pooping in the street while wearing a wedding dress: both jokes. A joke, as defined by this list, is a discrete moment of comedy, whether from stand-up, a sketch, an album, a movie, or a TV show.

For clarity’s sake, we’ve established certain ground rules for inclusion. First, we decided early on that these jokes needed to be performed and recorded at some point. Second, with apologies to Monty Python, whose influence on contemporary comedy is tremendous and undeniable, we focused only on American humor. Third, we only included one joke per comedian. And fourth, the list doesn’t include comedy that we ultimately felt was bad, harmful, or retrograde.

The list was put together by Vulture senior editor Jesse David Fox; New York senior editor Christopher Bonanos; comedians Wayne Federman, Phoebe Robinson, Halle Kiefer, and Rebecca O’Neal; comedy historians Yael Kohen (author of We Killed) and Kliph Nesteroff (author of The Comedians); and journalists Elise Czajkowski, Matthew Love, Katla McGlynn, Ramsey Ess, Dan Reilly, Jenny Jaffe, Lucas Kavner, and The Guardian’s Dave Schilling. (Fox, Bonanos, Keifer, O’Neal, Czajkowski, Love, McGlynn, Ess, Reilly, Jaffe, Kavner, and Schilling wrote the blurbs.)

Without further ado, here are the 100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy. They are listed below in chronological order, complete with video or audio. Use the timeline slider to jump to different eras or specific comedians….

Read it all at Vulture

Ethics in TV Storytelling from ClexaCon: Part II

Ethics of Storytelling at ClexaCon: Continued from Part 1 

About that writers’ room, how does that factor into ethical storytelling? What is the role of a showrunner? How much do an author’s intentions and opinions matter? And is anyone on TV writing queer female characters ethically?

Ethics in Storytelling Panel

Dr. Elizabeth Bridges – Literature Professor & Writer – The Uncanny Valley

Gretchen Ellis – Linguist, Storyteller, Critic – The Ranconteur

Heather Hogan – Senior Editor Autostraddle.com

Moderator Question: TV relies on a collaborative writers’ room, so what kinds of problems does that lead to?

Elizabeth

This is another one where I’d like to bring in a historical perspective because I think that obviously television is a collaborative medium. There is no such thing as the singular auteur, artiste that makes television because there has to be a writers’ room. There have to be different people contributing. Editors. Actors. You name it.

There was a panel at ATX called ‘Bury Your Tropes’. I found that really disappointing. Javier Grillo-Marxuach was the only one who had anything progressive to say. Everybody but Javi on that panel stuck with this idea of the ‘singular artistic vision’.

This idea of artistic integrity is rooted in the idea of the artist that we inherited from the Renaissance. That’s when the artist was the painter, the sculptor, and that’s when artists started signing their name to works. That’s when we developed this idea of the artist with a singular vision with a divine gift from God, and that’s where we get our idea of the artist.

Fastforward to 2016 or 2017, and these showrunners have inherited this idea of the artist, and they see themselves as these folks with a divine gift and singular vision. They probably don’t say it like that in their minds, but that’s the cultural idea we have.

Heather

I mean they do say it. I mean even Rothenberg was: “Well I thought I was going to do it differently.” You see that in writers’ rooms, especially when it’s a male showrunner, like: I thought my thing was going to be so different from the other 175 lesbian/bisexual characters that were killed.

Then when you have women showrunners like Ilene Chaiken (Empire), their whole thing is ‘I’m a lesbian so I can kill whoever I want’.

Elizabeth

Still the trope.

Heather

Right? Then you have Ryan Murphy who’s the combination of both of those things. ‘I’m a gay man so I can just piss on literally everybody.’

Gretchen

We see artists say it all the time. They say: This is my story, and I need to tell it. I need to be true to my story. I need to be true to my vision. I have a lot of very choice words I won’t say here for people who say that. Because it’s nonsense.

You are crafting a story for an audience. You are making a story that people will watch. Especially with television, the point of television is to make money for the network. This isn’t just: I am an artist painting my work of art that hopefully one day will end up in a museum.

They’re creating media that exists to entertain and interact with the audience. In terms of that, they’re imposing a vision and a perception of art that doesn’t fit in this medium. Film and television are not the same as a single person creating a single work of art.

We cannot allow that conception to continue because it ends up with: they believe they don’t have to listen to their audience or even people in the same writers’ room.

Heather

Very simple solution to this problem is to put queer people, people of color, trans people, and non-binary people in your writers’ room. You need more than one black woman in a writers’ room because black women are not a monolith. You need a variety of voices.

Elizabeth

That’s what I mean about this model of the artist. Because at the ATX panel we had Ilene Chaiken saying: It’s okay because I’m a lesbian. No it’s not. So not only do we have to have this diverse team of people working on these projects, but then there also has a be a different model for how art is created.

Frankly, the one we inherited as the singular artiste is not a feminist model. So we need something that is truly collaborative. When you’re talking about something like One Day at a Time, I think we see the results of that. It’s been pretty successful.

People look to the person who authored a book or the showrunner to have an opinion about their own work. Back to literary studies, there’s this concept called the ‘death of the author’. It came along in the 1960’s – 70’s by this literary critic named Roland Barthes.

He talks about this idea that the opinion that an author has after releasing the work to the public is irrelevant because it’s just another opinion. What really matters is the response of the reader or the viewer because that is where the interaction takes place.

That’s where this dialogue takes place. It was meant for viewers. It was meant for readers. It doesn’t matter.

We can go back to JK Rowling talking about Dumbledore being gay. It’s like: That’s great. Where is it in the text?

Heather

The thing that’s made that infinitely worse is Twitter because a writer can just get on immediately after and say: ‘What I meant was…’ But you’re all: ‘Hey, that’s nice, but what I saw on my television was another lesbian getting shot with a stray bullet’.

Gretchen

On some level, I can acknowledge that you didn’t mean it the way I heard it, but this is how I heard it whether you meant it that way or not. What I want from you is to say: I am so sorry. I will do better next time.

From showrunners who did that, their reaction is: Let me explain to you why you should not have felt that way.

Heather

The other problem is, of the people who are watching your show, maybe half a percent are watching you on Twitter. So the cultural impact is there regardless of whether or not you apologize, because now it’s out in the wide world for people who are not part of the conversation. All they’re seeing is more dead queer characters.

The cultural impact goes so far beyond fandom. That’s the impact that really matters in a broader scheme because that impacts the people who are making legislation that is coming back to affect us.

To me the most remarkable thing to come out of Lexa’s death was the fact that places like Entertainment Weekly, Hollywood Reporter, and Variety started paying attention and writing about this thing and interviewing queer people and calling it out as a problem.

In terms of Bury Your Gays, one of the huge successes around the movement around Lexa is there is no showrunner on earth can be like: I didn’t know Bury Your Gays existed.

So if you’re doing it, you’re doing it purposefully, knowing it hurts the community, and you’re doing it knowing the backlash is coming your way.

The justification for so long was: Now we have so many characters, and marriage equality is a thing, and Obama’s going to change the world, it’s not like we’re ever going to get Donald Trump as president. Now you’re doing it knowing that the political situation is as dire as it is, so you’re putting active harm into a world that’s not the same world it was even just six or eight months ago.

Elizabeth

I would like to remind everyone that all of those deaths (of queer female characters on television) were being written while marriage equality was being celebrated. Just think about that for a second.

I think right now in time, a showrunner would be hard pressed to kill a character and not have it fall into the trope. I don’t know how you could do it right now. Maybe when there’s more parity, when there’s more representation, when it really is ‘any character can die’.

Heather

(Jokingly) What if a straight white guy with a vision does it though?

Audience Question: Have you seen a show or somewhere on TV or a movie where they did it right?

Gretchen

Wynonna Earp.

Heather

Carol.

Gretchen

I actually think that up until the last, there are some episodes where it’s better or not, but I actually think Sanvers on Supergirl is amazing.

Elizabeth

First half of the season, yes.

Gretchen

One of the best written stories, especially about an older woman coming out. That was so well done.

Heather

One Day at a Time. Orange is the New Black still deserves your support because it’s telling a lot of stories of women of color. May and Sadie both mentioned Transparent. That show, it’s complicated. You can read a lot of great criticism from trans women at autostraddle, but it’s doing some special stuff.

Gretchen

Steven Universe.

Heather

Steven Universe is doing it the best.

Gretchen

Hands down, Steven Universe is doing it the best right now.

Question: Are any of these stories doing this across intersectionality (queer women of color, of different religions, etc)?

Gretchen

Steven Universe and Orange is the New Black, I would say. Then One Day at a Time because it’s about a Cuban family.

Question: Speaking about ethics in storytelling, what’s your take briefly on subtext?

Elizabeth

Once I had ‘text’, I could never go back.

Gretchen

In some ways there’s not a lot of excuses now for subtext. Compare Steven Universe to Legend of Korra. Legend of Korra existed in a time when it was not acceptable to show woman loving women stories on television, so it had to be subtext otherwise they would have literally not been able to make the show that they did. Legend of Korra then, I think, actually opened the space for a show like Steven Universe.

But now that Steven Universe exists, there’s no excuse to go back. It’s that step. Once you take a step that something can exist as text, there’s no excuse for subtext after that.


Back to Kate G: Friggin’ brilliant, right? Check out their sites for more in depth discussions and resources on all of these things. A big thank you to ClexaCon for hosting this panel. More articles from the front lines at ClexaCon to come!

The Uncanny Valley

The Ranconteur

Autostraddle.com


Kathryn Graham is a Contributing Writer to TVWriter™. Learn more about Kate HERE

New Series on Hulu: ‘When the Street Lights Go On’

Just another primetime soap with the usual dark shit – murder, arson, we-all-know-the-drill – added?

Or is this new pilot, written by Chris Hutton and Eddie O’Keefe and directed by film buffs’ delight Brett Morgen really worth the response more than one TVWriter™ minion gave it:

“Wow!”

This one’s coming to Hulu as an original, and odds are that we’ll all have a chance to see what’s up.

So many interweb network-type alternatives. No wonder God invented Chromecast!

LB reads ‘The Shape of Ideas’

by Larry Brody

Speaking of Grant Snider, as we did back on Tuesday, Grant the Greatest has a new book coming out April 18, 2017. I haven’t read it yet – as a book – but I know it’s going to be sensational because I have read or looked at – or whatever words you use when you’re perusing a collection of cartoons – just about everything the man has ever posted on the interwebs, and his entire body of work has been, in a word, wonderful.

The new book, The Shape of Ideas, An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity, is an amazingly beautiful and uncommonly perceptive look at creativity by one of the most creative cartoonists since Thomas Nast. Published by Abrams Books,  the hardcover edition in particular promises to be magical.

And that’s at the very least.

After all, how can it not be? Just as Mr. Snider is my numero uno cartoonist of all time, so is Abrams Books the publishing house I admire most when it comes to illustrated collections of just about any kind of art, but in particular magazine illos and comic strips.

The Shape of Ideas, An Illustrated Exploration of Creativity, will be in bookstores and, of course, on Amazon.Com in the middle of next month. Till then, previews are available at the just-mentioned Amazon link and at Abrams Books.

We’re talking definite Don’t-Miss here so harken unto the proudly partisan Brode and…don’t fucking miss it!

John Ostrander: Twenty Years Gone

by John Ostrander

It was a lifetime ago. It was just moments gone by.

Tuesday will mark twenty years since my wife, Kimberly Ann Yale, died.

I’ve been working on a column discussing the passage for some days but haven’t been satisfied with it. Sometimes you try to say something and can’t find the right things to say. I’ve come across an old column I wrote ten years ago. Just about everything I wanted to say I said back then so, if y’all don’t mind, I’ll just reprint it here.

Today is Thanksgiving and a hearty Happy Thanksgiving to you all. As it turns out, it’s also the birthday of my late wife, Kimberly Ann Yale, who would have been 54 today. This is a day for stopping and giving thanks for the good things in your life and so I’ll ask your indulgence while I remember one of the best things in mine, which was Kim.

For those who don’t know her, never met her, how do I describe her to you? My god, where do I begin? Physically – heart shaped face, megawatt smile, big blue eyes. Champagne blonde hair which, in her later years, she decided should be red. That decision was pure Kimmie. She looked good, too, but she also looked good bald. More on that in a few moments.

She was buxom and damn proud of it. Referred to her breasts as “the girls” and was fond of showing them off. She was about 5’8” so that when she was in heels we were about the same height. Basically had an hourglass figure although sometimes there were a few more seconds packed into that hourglass than maybe there should have been. We both fought weight problems and I still do.

All that, however, is merely a physical description. Photographs could tell you as much and more and still tell you so little about Kim. Not who she was. Kim was an extrovert to the point of being an exhibitionist. She was sometimes flamboyant; I have described her as the world’s most innocent narcissist. She loved the spotlight but with the delight of a child. Yet, she also loved nothing better than to be in the corner of a tea shoppe or coffee house, drinking her cuppa, writing in her journal, totally absorbed into herself and the moment.

She also genuinely loved people. Loved being around them, hearing their stories, telling her own. She had one of the world’s great infectious laughs. If you were in a comedy on stage, you wanted Kim in your audience. She got the jokes, too, including some the rest of the audience missed.

She loved music, all kinds of music, and could talk knowledgeably about it for hours. Hell, Kim could hold forth on almost anything for hours. She loved classical, the blues, rock and roll, soundtracks to movies – everything. She loved movies, she loved books, she loved TV. She adored Doctor Who; we, in fact, met at a Doctor Who Convention.

She loved comics and she loved the idea of women in comics. At many different Cons, she would chair the Women in Comics panel and, in Chicago especially where she did it for several years, people learned to come because it would often be one of the most interesting, thought-provoking panels at the Con. She was part of the early organizational meetings that resulted in Friends of Lulu and their annual award for the best new female comics creator is named for Kim. She would have been very proud of that.

How do I describe our relationship – what we gave to each other? One example – she brought cats into my life, I brought dogs back into hers. She made me more of a cat person; I brought out the dog lover in her.

Other things she brought to me – her love of Westerns and of the Civil War. I had dismissed Westerns as “oaters” and “horse opera” but Kim patiently took me through the best ones, showed me the difference from a John Ford western and a Budd Boetticher one. Without Kim, there never would have been The Kents or my Marvel westerns, Blaze of Glory and Apache Skies.

On our honeymoon, Kim wanted to go to Fredericksburg, Virginia, so we could walk some of the Civil War battlefields in the area. I was a little dubious at first but went along because it was important to her. My god, I learned so much walking those battlefields. I don’t know if you can understand those battles or the War without doing that. We would later add others like Shiloh and Gettysburg to the list. Amazing, bonding, illuminating moments.

Kim and I worked together as co-writers on several projects, notably Suicide Squad, some Munden’s Bar stories, and a tale of Young John Gaunt that ran in the back of GrimJack during its final year at First Comics. I think Kim was a finer writer than I am. I’m at heart a storyteller and I’m mostly about what happens next; I turn a good phrase and I know plot, character, theme and so on but Kim was also into the composition and the polish on the story. She would go over and over things while I’d push on. I wish she had written more on her own; at the end of her life, so did she.

Kim also introduced me to the fabled “Bucket of Suds,” a wonderful bar in Chicago that was the nearest earthly equivalent I know to Munden’s Bar and to which we, in turn, introduced many folks from the comic book community, especially during the Chicago Comiccon. The owner, Joe Danno, was a mixologist and could invent a new drink on the spot in addition to creating his own cordials. The Bucket not only served drinks but, for many years, served home made pizza, burgers, breadsticks.

Joe also created his own catsup, mustard, bar-b-que sauce, and hot sauce. Want to see our esteemed editor, Mike Gold, both drool and cry at the same time? Get him talking about the hot sauce and the bar-b-que sauce, neither of which is available any more. (Oh, the humanity!) I set a scene in an issue of Hawkworld at the Bucket and got photo reference for our penciler, Graham Nolan, which he used wonderfully well. I later obtained the pages and gave them to Joe who proudly had them framed up over the bar.

Joe got older and the bar’s opening hours became more erratic. Kim by that point, was also sick with the breast cancer that would kill her. Joe finally announced that the Bar was closing and said there would be a party the closing night. Kim desperately wanted to be there – it was right around her birthday, as I recall – but she was too sick by that point to make the trip. The bar closed and Kim herself died the following March.

Kimberly wore her heart on her sleeve, both politically and personally, and it was an open and generous heart. She identified so much with underdogs. She was a PK – a Preacher’s Kid – and her father was an Episcopal chaplain in the Navy as well, so she was also a “Navy Brat.” She would move every few years to another base somewhere else in the country. Sometimes it would be a great place and sometimes it was one where she was treated horribly but one thing she learned was not to form really close friends because, in a few years, she or they would move on to another base and would be gone.

Yet despite all that, her heart was not bitter or closed. She loved meeting people and she did make friends even though her heart did get hurt time and again. What people thought of her mattered to her and sometimes that could hurt. I tried to explain to her that, in fact, while everyone had a right to their own opinion, not everyone’s opinion mattered. Some people were just assholes. Some were nasty assholes. Some had agendas. Some were misinformed. Kim understood all that or at least her head did but it hurt nevertheless. It’s hard when you lead with your heart.

Kim died of breast cancer more than ten years ago. I won’t go through all the particulars of that time, other than to note that it was mercifully swift and that she fought with her customary determination, élan and brio which she documented in a brave series of columns that she wrote for the Comic Buyers Guide.

There are a few grace notes to tell in the space we have. As a result of her bouts with chemo, Kim’s hair did fall out so eventually she shaved her head. She considered using a wig but eventually opted for temporary tattoos at her temples. I remember the butterflies.

In her final weeks, she let go of more and more things that simply no longer mattered. She let go of old angers, she forgave, she reconciled. As her body failed, ultimately her spirit became more clear. I’ll not say she went quietly into that good night; she was very clear about wanting to die in her own home and when circumstances forced us to bring her back to the hospital for pain management, she rebelled. Drugged up, she still tried to take the tubes out of her arms. She wanted to go home and, finally, we brought her home.

Yet, all of these are also simply random facts about Kim and cannot capture her. There is only one way that I know to do that – through story. We had three memorial services for Kim after she died – one at our church, one in New York for those who knew her from the comics industry, one back in Chicago for family and friends there. Stories were told at all three and, for me, they were the centerpieces of the memorials. Mary and I still tell them, recalling Kim’s foibles as well as her virtues for, as I have said before, I prefer Kim’s foibles to many other people’s virtues. They make her human. They make her alive.

I think that’s important for anyone who has lost someone who was loved. Don’t just remember – tell the stories. So that’s what I’d like to do with the comments sections this week, if you have time – tell stories about the lives of people we are thankful we have known, those who are no longer here. If you have a Kim story to tell, that would be great – I’d love to read it. If it’s about someone else, that’s okay, too – Kim would have loved to hear it.

That’s who Kim was – a person of story.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone.

A few additional thoughts.

Kim was a geek back when it was not cool to be a geek and the triumph of geek culture would have floored her. The Star Wars prequels and now the new sequels and stand alone stories; the whole Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies; the return of Doctor Who and the dawn of the superhero movie. She would have been in NYC with me for the premiere of the Suicide Squad movie; Kim would have seen the three-story tall Squad ad in Times Square, screamed and swooned and then laughed with utter delight. I can hear it in my mind’s ear.

She’s missed a lot. She is missed a lot.

I have a new life and a partner that I love and treasure – Mary Mitchell. Twenty years is a lifetime; twenty years was just a moment ago. Kim is still a part of my life and will be for the rest of my life and that’s as it should be.

So long as memory lives, so do the ones we loved.


John Ostrander quite simply is one of LB’s favorite writers in any medium. Don’t forget to read his most excellent blog at ComicMix, where this piece first appeared.

WGAW March 2017 Calendar

Because we loves hangin’ with the Pro Writer Pack:

CLICK HERE FOR THE CLICKABLE VERSION
(That sort of makes sense, yeah?)

Meme: ‘The Writing Life’

Image by Tina Mailhot-Roberge

Wisdom attributed at various time and by various people to

Ray Bradbury and Kurt Vonnegut