5 of the Most Important Jokes in Comedy

Vulture rounds up 100; here's a small sample
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 2, 2016 12:01 PM CST
Updated Feb 6, 2016 3:25 PM CST
5 of the Most Important Jokes in Comedy
Leslie Nielsen in "Airplane!" Please stop calling him Shirley.   (Paramount Pictures)

If you've got some spare time on your hands, the editors at Vulture have selected the "100 Jokes That Shaped Modern Comedy." They define "joke" to include acts of physical comedy along with those of the traditional punchline variety, and they cull from stand-up routines, movies, music, you name it. A sampling:

  • "I am serious ... and don't call me Shirley." The line from Airplane! in 1980, of course. It's "brilliantly stupid" and funny, both to a young kid and a "professional comedy critic." Don't underestimate it.

  • "I came home the other day and everything in my apartment had been stolen and replaced with an exact replica. I couldn't believe it. I said to my roommate, 'Look at this stuff, it's all an exact replica.' He said, 'Do I know you?'" This Steven Wright line from 1985 proves the point: "His ability to identify banal aspects of life and spin them into absurd ideas remains unmatched." Wright inspired countless others.
  • "Is that ... hair gel?" The line from There's Something About Mary in 1998 helped establish "what is now known as the hard-R comedy, a phenomenon that would really take hold in the '00s." As dirty as it was, the joke was even in the film's advertising.
  • The earliest joke on the list is from 1906, and it's actually a song by a popular black performer named Bert Williams. The song "Nobody" laughs "at the self-deprecation of an unfortunate schlemiel" ... "and having a black man as the song's tragic protagonist added to its novelty and ultimate comedic longevity, spawning a comic genre where vulnerability and ennui weren't taboo, but welcome subjects."
  • The most modern joke is Amy Schumer's "12 Angry Men" sketch from last year, in which a jury argues about whether she's hot enough to be on TV. "I don't think she's protagonist hot," says one. "But Kevin James is?" responds another. The half-hour skit is "the type of brutally hilarious idea that rarely makes it on television."
Dig into the full list here. (Here's why G-rated comedians are doing so well these days.)

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