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

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key Stage 1

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: Phase Co-ordinator for Foundation and Key S...

Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: SEN Teacher We have a fantastic special n...

Tradewind Recruitment: History Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an 11-18 all ability co-educat...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 6 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

If I were Prime Minister: Every privatised corner of the NHS would be taken back into public ownership

Philip Pullman
 

Errors & Omissions: Magna Carta, sexing bishops and ministerial aides

John Rentoul
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee