Sunday, July 27, 2008

Alas, Poor Yorick: A Compendium Of Killing Jokes


Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio; a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy; he hath borne me on his back a thousand times; and now, how abhorred in my imagination it is! my gorge rises at it. Here hung those lips that I have kissed I know not how oft. Where be your gibes now?
- Shakespeare, Hamlet

The term "killing joke" amplifies the idea of the laughter that dispels the ultimate fear of returning to our base origin.
- Jaz Coleman, The Courtald Talks

Death is an old jest but it comes new to everyone.
- Yevgeny Bazarov in Ivan Turgenev's Fathers and Sons

Laughter is just a slowed down scream of terror.
- Thomas Disch, Interview

In the ritual sacrifice of the aged, 'laughter is an act of piety which transforms death into a new birth'. By nullifying the homicide, the birth of new lives was propitiated, weeping and mourning abolished, and slaughter and death turned into a collective laugh . . . Death and laughter are tightly bound together in an inseparable dialectic relationship in all cultures of the agrarian type, which have the profound nucleus of their religiosity - a constant relation between earth and sub-soil, fertility and sterility - in vegetable rebirth and reproduction by means of dead seeds.
- Piero Camporesi, Bread of Dreams: Food and Fantasy in Early Modern Europe

Not by wrath does one kill but by laughter.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Jokes are not really funny at all . . .
- Marvin Minsky, Jokes and the Language of the Cognitive Unconscious


See, there were these two guys in a lunatic asylum... and one night... one night they decide they don't like living in an asylum any more. They decide they’re going to escape! So like they get up on to the roof, and there, just across the narrow gap, they see the rooftops of the town, stretching away in moon light... stretching away to freedom. Now the first guy he jumps right across with no problem. But his friend, his friend daren't make the leap. Y'see he's afraid of falling... So then the first guy has an idea. He says "Hey! I have my flash light with me. I will shine it across the gap between the buildings. You can walk across the beam and join me." But the second guy just shakes his head. He says... he says "What do you think I am, crazy? You would turn it off when I was half way across."

Source: The Joker in Alan Moore's Batman: The Killing Joke


Caesar decided to spend the winter on the island of Rhodes, but the ship taking him there was captured by pirates, who held him hostage for about forty days, until a large ransom bought his freedom. During this misadventure Caesar displayed much of the ruthlessness which would later lead to his world fame. While captured he joked with his captors, telling them he'd see them all crucified, once he was released. Everyone laughed at the joke, even Caesar himself. But it was in fact exactly what he did once he was released. He hunted the pirates down, captured them and had them crucified.

Source: Suetonius, Life of Caesar


The Universe is the Practical Joke of the General, at the Expense of the Particular, quoth Frater Perdurabo, and laughed.

But those disciples nearest to him wept, seeing the Universal Sorrow.

Others next to them laughed, seeing the Universal Joke.

Below these certain disciples wept.

Then certain laughed.

Others next wept.

Others next laughed.

Next others wept.

Next others laughed.

Last came those that wept because they could not see the Joke, and those that laughed lest they should be thought not to see the Joke, and thought it safe to act like Frater Perdurabo.

But though Frater Perdurabo laughed openly, He also at the same time wept secretly; and in Himself he neither laughed or wept.

Nor did He mean what He said.

Source: Aleister Crowley, The Book Of Lies


An egghead was on a sea voyage when a big storm blew up, causing his slaves to weep in terror. 'Don't cry,' he consoled them, 'I have freed you all in my will.'

Source: Philogelos, circa fourth or fifth century AD


On March 30, 1933, two months after Hitler achieved power, Paul Nikolaus, a Berlin cabaret comedian, wrote disconsolately, "For once, no joke. I am taking my own life . . ."

Source: Richard Evans, The Coming Of The Third Reich


I pray you, Mr. Lieutenant, see me safe up; and for my coming down, let me shift for myself.

Source: Sir Thomas More, to his executioner while climbing the scaffold


What is he that builds stronger than either the mason, the
shipwright, or the carpenter?

The gallows-maker, for that frame outlives a thousand
tenants. (V.i., 38-41)

and later in the scene:

And when you are asked this question next, say “A grave-maker.” The houses that he makes last till doomsday. (V.i., 53-55)

Source: William Shakespeare, Hamlet


In late 1943, during the Tripartite Dinner Meeting at the Tehran Conference, the Soviet leader, Joseph Stalin, proposed executing 50,000-100,000 German staff officers. Not realizing that Stalin was serious, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt joked that perhaps 49,000 would do.

Source: United States Government Memoranda


It is cited that the Burmese king Nanda Bayin, in 1599 "laughed to death when informed, by a visiting Italian merchant, that Venice was a free state without a king."

Source: Ben Schott, Schott's Original Miscellany


How 'bout a magic trick? [Slams a pencil into the table standing upright] I'm gonna make this pencil disappear. [Gambol's henchman tries to attack him; in one swift motion he slams the man's head into the pencil, forcing the entire pencil through his eye socket. The man falls over dead.] Taa-daa! It''s gone.

Source: The Joker in Christopher Nolan's The Dark Knight

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