Spare a thought for the comedians as the Pope gets on his horse

The moment news breaks Twitter has thousands of jokes in 140 characters

Share
Related Topics

I once made up a joke, and it goes like this: No man
is an island...apart from Barry.

Now I know this will not cause ruptured stomach muscles among the helplessly guffawing  readers of this column, but at least it's a genuine, original gag, devised (if that's not too grand a term) while I was watching an episode of "Gavin and Stacey".

I have told it to many people down the years, and have waited in vain to encounter a random person telling it back to me, or to hear it, even, spoken by a proper comedian. I have concluded that it's not such a good joke, which is a shame because, had it gained some traction, I'd have been able to trace it right back from whence it came.

I have often wondered whether it's possible to discover the precise origin of a joke. Who first thought up the one about the horse walking into the pub? (Why the long face? asks the barman.) Or the man who tells the psychiatrist that he thinks he's a dog? (Lie down on the couch, he's told. Oh no, he replies, I'm not allowed on the couch.) I could go on (and on), but you get the point.

There is usually no form of etymology for jokes, which makes it difficult for anyone to claim authorship. Professional comedians, understandably, are intensely protective of what they consider their intellectual property, and do not see the funny side when their jokes are stolen, or are used without attribution. The Scottish comedian Arnold Brown once dressed me down for using one of his gags in a speech I was making, while a former colleague of mine was threatened with a law suit by a well-known stand-up artist when she "borrowed" a joke of his for a cartoon. Quite right, too. Why shouldn't those whose living is spent crafting jokes be paid royalties? All right, today's top comedians command rock star fees and earn mega-millions from their live tours, but it's a demanding, often lonely, life.

And spare a thought for how much harder, in the world of Twitter, their job has become. In the old days, any stand-up worth his or her salt would have a routine of topical gags. Horse meat, Chris Huhne, the Pope: whatever's in the news would be fair game, and the chances are that the audience would be hearing the jokes for the first time. Fat chance now. No sooner had the Pope announced his resignation than Twitter was alive with Pontiff-related funnies (my favourites were ex-Benedict and the observation that the new Pope will have his work cut out now that the transfer window has shut).

Similarly, when the horsemeat scandal broke, there were a thousand jokes in 140 characters or less. (What do you want on that burger? Twenty pounds each way, please.) What chance would Jimmy Carr or Jack Whitehall have of taking to the stage and telling a gag about a newsworthy event that no one had heard previously? We read that one on Twitter. And that one came round as a viral. But at least there's one blessing of the digital world: each joke comes with a by-line.

React Now

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Business Analyst Consultant (Financial Services)

£60000 - £75000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Business Analyst Consultant (Fina...

Systems Administrator - Linux / Unix / Windows / TCP/IP / SAN

£60000 per annum: Harrington Starr: A leading provider in investment managemen...

AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer

£600 - £700 per day: Harrington Starr: AVS, JVS Openlink Endur Developer JVS, ...

E-Commerce Developer

£45000 - £60000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Exciting opp...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

The daily catch-up: fathers looking after children, World Cup questions and Nostradamus

John Rentoul
 

Letter from the Political Editor: Phone and data laws to be passed in haste

Andrew Grice
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

Peace without magnanimity - the summit in a railway siding that ended the fighting
Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

Scottish independence: How the Commonwealth Games could swing the vote

In the final part of our series, Chris Green arrives in Glasgow - a host city struggling to keep the politics out of its celebration of sport
Out in the cold: A writer spends a night on the streets and hears the stories of the homeless

A writer spends a night on the streets

Rough sleepers - the homeless, the destitute and the drunk - exist in every city. Will Nicoll meets those whose luck has run out
Striking new stations, high-speed links and (whisper it) better services - the UK's railways are entering a new golden age

UK's railways are entering a new golden age

New stations are opening across the country and our railways appear to be entering an era not seen in Britain since the early 1950s
Conchita Wurst becomes a 'bride' on the Paris catwalk - and proves there is life after Eurovision

Conchita becomes a 'bride' on Paris catwalk

Alexander Fury salutes the Eurovision Song Contest winner's latest triumph
Pétanque World Championship in Marseilles hit by

Pétanque 'world cup' hit by death threats

This year's most acrimonious sporting event took place in France, not Brazil. How did pétanque get so passionate?
Whelks are healthy, versatile and sustainable - so why did we stop eating them in the UK?

Why did we stop eating whelks?

Whelks were the Victorian equivalent of the donor kebab and our stocks are abundant. So why do we now export them all to the Far East?
10 best women's sunglasses

In the shade: 10 best women's sunglasses

From luxury bespoke eyewear to fun festival sunnies, we round up the shades to be seen in this summer
Germany vs Argentina World Cup 2014: Lionel Messi? Javier Mascherano is key for Argentina...

World Cup final: Messi? Mascherano is key for Argentina...

No 10 is always centre of attention but Barça team-mate is just as crucial to finalists’ hopes
Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer knows she needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

Siobhan-Marie O’Connor: Swimmer needs Glasgow joy on road to Rio

18-year-old says this month’s Commonwealth Games are a key staging post in her career before time slips away
The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

The true Gaza back-story that the Israelis aren’t telling this week

A future Palestine state will have no borders and be an enclave within Israel, surrounded on all sides by Israeli-held territory, says Robert Fisk
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: The German people demand an end to the fighting

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

The German people demand an end to the fighting
New play by Oscar Wilde's grandson reveals what the Irish wit said at his trials

New play reveals what Oscar Wilde said at trials

For a century, what Wilde actually said at his trials was a mystery. But the recent discovery of shorthand notes changed that. Now his grandson Merlin Holland has turned them into a play
Can scientists save the world's sea life from

Can scientists save our sea life?

By the end of the century, the only living things left in our oceans could be plankton and jellyfish. Alex Renton meets the scientists who are trying to turn the tide
Richard III, Trafalgar Studios, review: Martin Freeman gives highly intelligent performance

Richard III review

Martin Freeman’s psychotic monarch is big on mockery but wanting in malice