Comic Tom Taylor: Searching for the roots of Christmas jokes

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Room for a Laugh column - The world of Tom Taylor of Harrogate’s Sitting Room comedy club and finalist in Nando’s New Comedian Of The Year 2014 at Edinburgh Fringe .

There are two snowmen in a field and the first one says to the second one: “Can you smell carrots?”

This is the season of the joke. Squeeze Uncle Nigel into a novelty jumper and a few strong lemonades later, he’s a comedian. And so is everyone who follows this immensely simple two-step guide.

Nige’s particular favourites will include some form of marriage betwixt animal and cheese. What kind of cheese can you use to hide a horse? What is the best cheese to coax a bear down a mountain? Good traditional cracker staples that have existed in some form since 1845 when Tom Smith realised his bonbons weren’t good enough for people to buy on taste and flavour alone but he could shift a whole heap of them if he sold them in exploding packaging. Why not make tastier sweets?

Occasionally Nige will get confused and ask something like: “What do Beavers use to build eDam?” And everyone stares at him until he says: “Cheese. They use … cheese. Get it?” Then everyone agrees that that one must have been a fact and wasn’t it interesting, beavers using cheese. Surely they wouldn’t use hole-y cheese. Not at Christmas, that would be in poor taste.

When it’s Nigel’s turn to ‘host Christmas’ – a grand and exotic phrase which roughly translates as ‘serve up Indian Snack Selection after catering disaster’ – he will habitually open with, “Every Christmas I get an awful pain that stays for a week. Then my mother-in-law goes back to her own home.”

Nigel’s mother-in-law never laughs but, as jokes go, it is rather a good tone setter for when the assembled relatives look forlornly over what was once a turkey and is now a textured pattern on the kitchen floor.

You get official clowns as far back as 3000 BC, in Egypt, but the joke itself seems to be a Greek invention. Many claim that Palamedes crafted the first gag, but he also gets credit for inventing numbers, the alphabet, lighthouses and the practice of eating meals at regular intervals, so it seems Big P is something of a contingency plan.

Hey. Brian. We need someone for ‘first joke’?

What, those encyclopaedia guys are still going?

Yeah, new edition.

They don’t let up, do they? Okay, well, when did we last use Palamedes?

Err… for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

PAUSE

Palamedes?

Palamedes.

Jokes vary depending on the cultural context but the need to laugh is the same whatever campfire you happen to be sat around. Funny is funny.

Here is an old Jewish joke. A grandmother has taken her grandson to Coney Island, the beach areas in New York, and bought him a hat and coat. As they stroll along the beach a freak wave hits the boy and carries him out to sea. The grandmother is distraught and gets down on her knees to plead with God for the child’s safe return. Just then a second wave brings the boy back to her feet. She clasps him in her arms, looks up to God, and says: “He had a hat!”

And, in the interests of world understanding, here is a Navajo joke. A woman is driving in Northern Arizona when she sees a Navajo woman hitchhiking. She stops and picks her up. As they chat, the Navajo woman notices a brown bag on the front seat between them.

The woman driver nods and says: “It’s a bottle of French wine. I got it for my husband.” The Navajo woman is silent for a while and then sagely says: “Good trade.”

Have a lovely Christmas and I will writing for you again in the New Year!

Following a fantastic 2014 programme of shows, Sitting Room Comedy Club returns to the St George Hotel, Harrogate on Wednesday, January 14 with stand-up legend Simon Evans (Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, Live at the Apollo, Mock the Week). Tickets and information are available at www.sittingroomcomedy.com.

Tom Taylor tweets at @tomtails.