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Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes

3.3 of 5 stars 3.30  ·  rating details  ·  277 ratings  ·  70 reviews
From the best-selling author of Why Does the World Exist? comes this outrageous, uproarious compendium of absurdity, filth, racy paradox, and gratuitous offensiveness—just the kind of mature philosophical reflection readers have come to expect from the ever-entertaining Jim Holt. Indeed, Stop Me If You’ve

Heard This
is the first book to trace the evolution of the joke all t
ebook, 160 pages
Published July 17th 2008 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published July 1st 2008)
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Largely because of the old saw about a joke ceasing to be funny when you have to explain it, I was a bit dubious about starting this book, as the subtitle "a History and Philosophy of Jokes" didn't seem to hold too much promise. What a pleasant surprise, then, to begin the book to find that not only does author Jim Holt have a pleasing and utterly engaging narrative voice, but that the book, unlike much of the genre purporting to deconstruct the concept of the joke (Sigmund Freud, I'm talking to ...more
Did you hear the one about the joke book?

Is it funny?

Not really. It’s not a book of jokes. Rather a book about jokes. History and Philosophy. Well, there are a few jokes in it. But that’s not the point.

I don’t get it.

The most obvious criticism one could make about Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes by Jim Holt is that it is too short. In the preface, Holt admits that, “Some readers will consider it exiguous, but to me it is much of a muchness, and that is more than e
Ann Keller
I never really analyzed the history of a joke before, but Jim Holt pulls all of this together remarkably well. In the end, people haven't changed that much from ancient times. We still find similar things hilarious and those parallels are a delight.

The synopsis of this book is a little harsher than the book itself.
Holt's breezily written, knowledgeable little book traces the history and philosophy of jokes. It's interesting how timelessly funny some of those ancient Greek jokes are!
This little book is fascinating. If you have an hour to kill, pick this one up.
This book is really short – it’s a classic case of packaging not all that much material (one essay) into a format that makes it appear to be more than it is, using a small page format along with so many illustrations presented on a full page that it’ll remind you of a Big Little Book, assuming you’re old enough to catch the reference. Even the bibliography, consisting of seven entries, is spread over two pages.

Nonetheless I found the essay in question pretty entertaining, so if you’re looking fo
I will reiterate that this is an extended New Yorker article, yet for all of its research it doesn't impress as a "history" or "philosophy." It hits the high notes and includes the important names, but ultimately is more collected notes than report.

That being said, for what it is--as opposed to what its title portends it to be--it is perfectly acceptable. It is a pocket book, quick and easy light reading that literally fits in your back pocket. I mean, I laughed a handful of times and there's ha
The subject matter interested me immediately, but this surpassed my expectations. The book is structured exactly as the title suggests: the first half is a history of jokes, and the second half is a philosophy of jokes (primarily suggesting theories of what defines a joke and why jokes elicit laughter). The history portion was more of an origin story; it discussed the earliest publications of joke collections and the development of an appreciation of jokes over the recent millennia. Altogether a ...more
Some of the examples made me chuckle, not hugely in depth was left wanting a more thorough discussion on almost everything touched and is the type of book that brings doubts to my mind about what wasn't there. Very short read its about 120 pages of content (with very short pages) and every 4 pages or so there's a full page illustration. I was left with the impression the author was cherry picking historical figures, authors, and collectors rather than attempting to give a thorough history. The a ...more
Confession: I don’t find jokes funny. Not really. Witticisms, yes. Humorous stories, indeed. But jokes—setup: punchline jokes—not so much. Possibly there is something wrong with me.

I liked this book, though. It’s short—not much more than a glorified magazine article—but the history is fascinating and the philosophy digestible. I loved the examples of jokes from ancient times: they were hilarious, in the sense that they were hilariously bad. I especially enjoyed the discussion of Poggio Braccioli
Kalle Wescott
If you like humor (and who doesn't?), this is an interesting read.

The first half of the book traces the history of humor and of jokes, from those told by the ancient Greeks and Romans, to the present day.

Interestingly enough, some jokes told 2000+ years ago are still around, and still work, in today's context.

The second half of the book focuses on the philosophy of humor, starting with a categorization of types of jokes, and then moving on to the theories that attempt to explain what makes us la
The author traces the history of jokes-when we started telling them, when they were recorded, and how they have evolved (and devolved) over time. He focuses mostly on dirty jokes-jokes about sex, bodily functions, racism, and sexism-namely because at a certain level, all jokes are dirty and tasteless, and that's why we love them. He also examines WHY things are funny from philosophical, psychological, and physiological perspectives. Do we laugh at a joke because it is unexpected, because it allo ...more
This was a fun read. It was too short to go into serious detail about the history of jokes, but it was interesting enough (and I learned some things). In a lot of ways it reminded me more of a long magazine article than a book. It probably would have been better with more jokes, but it did include a few good ones.
If you want to read the earliest known jokes, or learn about the ironically-named Legman (scholar of the bawdy joke), or how a single joke (about a newly married couple who can't afford food) can trace an evolution back over 15 centuries, you'll enjoy this book.

And if you have ever wondered whether all jokes have a single unifying thread connecting everything we consider funny -- or what we actually mean by humor anyway -- you'll find much to provoke further musing.

Oh, and it's funny, too. The
Justine Olawsky
This is the scarcest and barest history of a universal human expression you could ever imagine. I suppose that there is just not that much out there; though, you think there must be more than this. The survey ranges from the earliest known collection of jokes, the Greek Philogelos through the Renaissance collection Liber Facetiarum and up into modern jokes of the barroom, bathroom walls, and stand-up comics. The better half was the philosophy half -- the whys of jokes and witticisms. There are s ...more
Title is too grand for such slim offerings. Entertaining though.

68.. s steinberg: "trying to define humor is one of the definitions of humor."
70..freud: Jokes & dreams share a common origin in the unconscious. Both are means of outwitting our inner "censor"
71..freud's Jewish jokes
....Lentils in beard. (Wrong! That was 2 days ago!)
72..excrement, an infant's first gift
74..M Lewinsky--Imagine, Monica is 30 years old already! It seems like only yesterday she was crawling around the
I'm not sure why I thought this was a long book, but it's pocket sized and amounts to a New Yorker article in book form. Very cosy.

I wouldn't really call it a history of jokes - more like a history of joke collectors and their reasons for collecting the type of jokes they did, and how those collections reflect the history of jokes. Interesting nonetheless. The philosophy part makes assertions that could be debated - and that's the fun part about reading a piece like this. I'm skeptical that anyo
A short history of humor and jokes. Not too historically correct I presume, but a pleasant read.
I picked up this book on the expectation that I would learn abou the history of jokes and find some good ones to remember and I got just that. This little book showed the evolution of certain kind of jokes and how some get started. I also learned the learn of three in writing good jokes. This is not to say that good jokes only work with that rule, otherwise one line puns wouldn't be funny but that the good jokes that sometimes bring out the biggest laughs will carry that method.

Great little rea
Short, very readable book. Didn't say much, but historical examination of humor was fun.
Stop Me If You've Heard This is vaguely reminiscent of Cathcart and Klein's Plato and a Platypus Walk Into a Bar though that book is an explanation of philosophy through jokes and Stop Me is the philosophy (and history) of jokes. This book, well organized and clearly written, contains some funny jokes, but it's somehow not all that interesting. As Jim Holt, the author, says (p 68), "...the more interesting x is, the less interesting the philosophy of x tends to be, and conversely." So since joke ...more
Natasha Patel
The historical references are interesting but the philosophical explanations are a little tedious. As Holt explains, "Art is interesting, but the philosophy of art is mostly boring; Law is boring, but the philosophy of law is pretty interposing." Agreed.
a quick read, has some funny jokes, like the historical look at humor

aaaaand learned that the san francisco public library has the largest collection in the world of humorful books, The Schmulowitz Collection of Wit & Humor! no joke!

couple o' jokes:

how did helen keller burn her fingers? she tried to read a waffle iron

garry shandling- i went to the doctor and told him my penis was burning. he said, that means somebody is talking about it!

Aug 22, 2008 Sam rated it 2 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who have to kill a couple of hours while traveling
I'm glad I read it and gladder I didn't pay retail. Holt, a regular at the New Yorker (full disclosure: I'm a subscriber), has expanded one of his articles. It contains surprises: there’s a connection between Larry David and a 15th-century Vatican secretary; some well-worn conclusions--"Originality is unrecognized plagiarism" (Voltaire said that); lastly, if you happened upon Holt’s radio or press interviews, he revealed 90 percent of the book.
Like Jim Holt says in the book, any joke, when explained, is no longer funny. One things he does do to try and avoid that is give examples of the jokes he's talking about, some of which are really funny. I laughed out loud at the gym, but luckily no one asked me what I was reading. It is a short and sweet look at the people who have studied jokes, but doesn't come to any conclusion on its own.
I learned from this book that, among his other accomplishments - which included inventing the phrase 'make love not war,' introducing origami to the west and chronicling over 60,000 salacious jokes - G. Legman apparently invented the vibrating dildo. Also, I learned that my mother thinks a dildo is some kind of Australian thing.
The author is a regular contributor to the New Yorker. The book is basically a record of the different philosophies of jokes and what they are, and some information on the different joke "historians" over time. I would have enjoyed a more in depth analysis of what a joke is a what triggers laughter, but I'm glad I read it.
Jim Holt takes aim at a strangely un studied but essential area of human experience - humor. while (like a good joke) bolts contribution is short, the topic deserves more than has so far been written. A history and theory of humor is amusing and thought provoking. Bonus points for including Poggio who is trending this year. ...more
Nov 18, 2008 Tara rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Humor Historian
Really 2 1/2 stars.... oh, so very academic. If you seen Lewis Black History Channel special "History of the Joke" - this is no where near as riotous and far more the true history of the joke researched back to ancient texts. The pages are very small though, so you feel like a rockstar reading so fast.
Sara G.
a long article in book form...liked it.
though it wasn't really a joke book, my fave from the book:
Why does a JAP (Jewish American Princess) like a man with a circumcised penis? Because she likes anything with 20% off.
Also enjoyed learning more about Mr. Legman - author of Rationale of the Dirty Joke.
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Jim Holt is a longtime contributor to the New Yorker -- where he has written on string theory, time, infinity, numbers, truth, and bullshit, among other subjects -- and the author of Stop Me If You've Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes. He is also a frequent contributor to the New York Times and the London Review of Books. He lives in Greenwich Village.
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“In both jokes and dreams, Freud observed, meanings are condensed and displaced, things are represented indirectly or by their opposites, fallacious reasoning trumps logic. Jokes often arise involuntarily, like dreams, and tend to be swiftly forgotten. From these similarities Freud inferred that jokes and dreams share a common origin in the unconscious. Both are essentially means of outwitting our inner "censor.” 3 likes
“The total absence of humor from the Bible,” Alfred North Whitehead once observed, “is one of the most singular things in all literature.” 0 likes
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