Not since Errol Flynn died
August 12, 2018 3:28 PM   Subscribe

What are some examples of jokes that were funny at a certain time, and still funny if you know the context, but are largely meaningless or unusable today?

There's a joke a friend of mine used to use if someone asked if he had a match. He'd say 'Not since Errol Flynn died'. I love this joke because (a) the set of people who would actually ask you for a match is so small, and (b) the Errol Flynn reference is so old as to make sense to very few people under 90.

What are some other examples of jokes that would just confuse the hell out of most people alive today, but would still tickle someone with a keen interest in the past?
posted by pipeski to Society & Culture (44 answers total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
- How would you like your hair cut, sir?
- Give me a Tony Curtis, would you?
[barber fires up clippers and gets to work, then leans over for a razor]
- What the-- don't you know who Tony Curtis is?
- Sure I do! I enjoyed The King and I so much I saw it three times!
posted by holgate at 3:39 PM on August 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

This one hasn't had much resonance since 1977, and is also limited to Scottish audiences:

Q: What the difference between Bing Crosby and Walt Disney?
A: Bing sings, but Walt disnae.

(disnae == does not, SW Scotland dialect)
posted by scruss at 3:39 PM on August 12, 2018 [13 favorites]

My son, post RenFaire experience, tried to tell me the "Got Prince Albert in a can?" joke, but said "King Henry" and I had to explain and there was no laughter.
posted by MonkeyToes at 3:55 PM on August 12, 2018 [22 favorites]

What's green and slimy and skates on ice?

Peggy Phlegm!
posted by vespabelle at 4:01 PM on August 12, 2018 [10 favorites]

Krusty the Clown: I want my comedy to have a timeless quality.

Krusty's Assistant: Here's the final draft on that "Hanging Chad" sketch, Krusty.

Krusty the Clown: [reading] Heh heh. Oh good, you worked in Judge Ito.

(Perhaps too meta?)
posted by Wild_Eep at 4:07 PM on August 12, 2018 [33 favorites]

Q: Why did Argentina invade the Falklands?
A: To impress Jodie Foster.
(circa 1982)

Q: Why did Pee Wee Herman fire his lawyer?
A: He said he could get himself off.
(Circa 1991)
posted by holborne at 4:12 PM on August 12, 2018 [9 favorites]

What happened when an elephant walked into the Jack Ruby trial?

Nothing. The police didn't see him.
posted by Obscure Reference at 4:26 PM on August 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

A joke for the first half of the 1990s, during the heyday of the Free Willy franchise:

If they would just free a smarter whale, we wouldn't have to go through this shit every summer.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 4:42 PM on August 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Q: What's Waldheimer's disease?
A: Getting so old you forget you were a Nazi.
posted by forthright at 4:53 PM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

Parodies of the yellow Livestrong bracelets that were a fad around 2004-2006 and obviously almost never seen since 2012. A middle schooler today might see this and not understand why it's funny.
posted by Seeking Direction at 4:54 PM on August 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

What's the opposite of Christopher Reeve?
Christopher Walken.
posted by phunniemee at 4:57 PM on August 12, 2018 [11 favorites]

How did they know Christa McAuliffe had dandruff?
They found her Head & Shoulders on the beach.
posted by XMLicious at 5:03 PM on August 12, 2018

"Close, but no cigar." Not many will recognize this Groucho Marx classic.
posted by effluvia at 5:06 PM on August 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

What did Nicole say? Hertz.

The worst joke of all time.
posted by kevinbelt at 5:08 PM on August 12, 2018 [1 favorite]

"Mitt Romney Style" (NSFW Language), which spoofs both the 2012 "Gangnam Style" craze and music video and the Romney/Ryan 2012 presidential campaign.

SNL "Weekend Getaway" from 2010, poking fun at the Toyota sudden unintended acceleration scandal that had everyone panicked.
posted by Seeking Direction at 5:30 PM on August 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Old time radio shows such as Burns and Allen and Molly and Fibber McGee are full of topical jokes - although there is usually plenty of timeless humour as well. BTW - when diving into old time radio, be warned that there are often poor characterizations of non-Caucasian characters and other things that wouldn't fly today.
posted by Calzephyr at 5:42 PM on August 12, 2018 [7 favorites]

The book Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie is spoofing off many famous detective novels of the day, except virtually none of those authors (except Christie's own Hercule Poirot) stood the test of time so all of the in-jokes are lost on modern readers. About the only jokes I could get were the ones about Thornley Colton the Blind Problemist, because obviously the gag is that he's blind and even I can figure out that one.
posted by jenfullmoon at 5:56 PM on August 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

No idea why this came into my head but P.D.Q. Bach's Concerto for Horn and Hardart referring to a long dead chain of automated cafeterias.
posted by octothorpe at 6:08 PM on August 12, 2018 [4 favorites]

Why don’t you hear too many jokes about the Jonestown massacre these days?

The punch lines are too long.
posted by Tuba Toothpaste at 6:19 PM on August 12, 2018 [25 favorites]

What is the worst part of having AIDs?

Having to convince your mother you are Haitian.

(In the very early days of the AIDs epidemic it was believed that AIDS was confined to four groups - Haitians, Homosexuals, Hemophiiiacs and Heroin injectors.)
posted by ITravelMontana at 7:09 PM on August 12, 2018 [11 favorites]

What is Salman Rushdie’s next book?

Buddha, the Big Dumb Fuck

(In 1988, when Rushdie’s The Satanic Verses was published, it was very offensive to Muslims and hugely controversial. The Ayatollah Khomeini issued a fatwa against Rushdie calling for his assassination. There were other death threats as well. It was really quite horrible - Rushdie had to go into hiding for years - but in the US, at least, he went from virtually unknown to a major best seller. I was teaching college English at the time, and teachers were scrambling to get The Satanic Verses on their syllabi.)
posted by FencingGal at 7:18 PM on August 12, 2018 [8 favorites]

Q: What blessing do Jews say before connecting to the Internet?

A: "Modem anachnu lach"

("Modim anachnu lach" is a blessing of the Amidah, a major daily prayer, thanking God for miracles. But modems aren't talked about much anymore.)
posted by likedoomsday at 8:20 PM on August 12, 2018 [5 favorites]

Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter, Gary Hart and Joe Biden are on a cruise ship. The ship hits an iceberg and begins to sink. Everyone's rushing for the lifeboats. Nixon shoves a woman aside and gets in one. Carter grabs his arm and shouts "Women first!" Nixon snaps "Fuck the women!" Gary Hart says "Do we have time?" Joe Biden says "Do we have time?"
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 11:48 PM on August 12, 2018 [3 favorites]

Jeffrey Dahmer was beaten to death in jail and the doctors just finished the autopsy. Guess what they found?

Jimmy Hoffa.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 1:54 AM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

"To err is Truman."

Learned that one from M*A*S*H.
posted by bryon at 3:14 AM on August 13, 2018

I remember after the Challenger disaster, the bad jokes started almost immediately at my middle school. (I remember them well because I was devastated and I hated all the jokes.) One that wouldn't make any sense today:

"What were the last words recorded from the Challenger astronauts?"

"No! Bud Light!"

You'd have to have seen the mid-80s Bud Light commercials where people go to a bar, ask for a light, and get some random light-producing object, until they specifically ask for Bud Light. Like this one.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:18 AM on August 13, 2018

(Perhaps too meta?)

This reminded me of a delightful essay from John McPhee in The New Yorker: Frame of Reference: To illuminate—or to irritate?

"[T]he collective vocabulary and common points of reference are not only dwindling now but have been for centuries. The dwindling may have become speedier, but it is an old and continuous condition. I am forever testing my students to see what works and does not work in pieces of varying vintage."
posted by MonkeyToes at 8:27 AM on August 13, 2018 [3 favorites]

When trying to go through a doorway at the same time as someone else, I say, "After you, Cecil." It's very rare, though not unknown, that the other person will recognise the Forties radio comedy catchphrase (from ITMA), and reply, "After *you*, Claude."
posted by MinPin at 9:21 AM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

"Close, but no cigar." Not many will recognize this Groucho Marx classic.

I actually hear this with some frequency, but I didn't think it originated with Groucho, and it didn't. The first recorded use was in 1935, in the script for the film Annie Oakley. No one knows for sure where it came from, but it might be from the practice in fairgrounds of giving out cigars as prizes. More here.
posted by FencingGal at 9:28 AM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Q: How did the Buffalo Bills get their name?
A: Boy I Like Losing Superbowls

My uncle used to tell this:

Q: What does TWA stand for?
A: This Way AAAAAAAAAAAAAoooooooooooout......

(Hint: TWA had so many crashes and incidents before going out of business, there's a separate Wikipedia category for it.)

Here's a rude one:

Q: When is it bedtime at Michael Jackson's house?
A: When the big hand is on top of the little hand.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 9:38 AM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Here's a few more general observations about some dated humor.

A lot of jokes involving news broadcasts and newscasters or "breaking news" in general ended with someone saying "Film at Eleven!" which requires the listener to understand that a) news broadcasts used to be only on network TV, at 11pm, b) no one had portable video cameras back then, so segments outside the studio were filmed, and c) no such thing as live neighborhood segments, all film had to come ack to the studio for rapid development.

In terms of music cues, while the X-Files theme and Twilight Zone theme are still recognized (via Vines, Tumblr, etc.) as a shorthand for creepiness and mystery, time has largely moved from Henry Mancini, whose Peter Gunn theme and Pink Panther theme were always an easy shorthand for someone trying to be sneaky, in an obvious or flashy way.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 9:53 AM on August 13, 2018 [2 favorites]

Also, will someone please explain the OP's Errol Flynn joke? Google is failing me.
posted by FencingGal at 10:24 AM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

On my cycle club rides, I sometimes call out "Get a horse!" as we pass another group of cyclists (friends) who are having a problem, such as a flat. No one gets it.

I hope the OP will explain the Errol Flynn thing. Google's got nothing.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:28 AM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Match: There's been no one to match the speaker's awesomeness since Errol Flynn died; speaker has had no equal in decades...

/kills another joke

posted by MonkeyToes at 10:35 AM on August 13, 2018 [6 favorites]

Alphonse and Gaston seem to be alive today, per Wikipedia.
posted by JimN2TAW at 10:40 AM on August 13, 2018

What do Sonny and Chastity Bono have in common?
They both went face-first into a bush.
posted by ApathyGirl at 12:34 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Here's a crappy one I remember from the 80s:

The good news is Ted Bundy's getting the electric chair. The bad news is Boeing wired it.

Bundy was executed via electrocution in 1989. Around that time Boeing 747s were having cargo door problems which were eventually partially attributed to wiring problems (including the horrifying United Airlines Flight 811 where the cargo door ripped off, taking part of the fuselage with it and pulling several rows of passengers to their deaths).
posted by under_petticoat_rule at 1:31 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

Q: What's the difference between the Philadelphia Phillies and the Chicago Cubs?
A: The last Phillies World Series team picture isn't in black and white.

posted by Seeking Direction at 6:37 PM on August 13, 2018

More outdated Cubs memes (unfortunately, in a stupid slideshow format)
posted by Seeking Direction at 6:39 PM on August 13, 2018

What type of wood floats?

Natalie Wood.
posted by nightrecordings at 7:40 PM on August 13, 2018 [1 favorite]

s/floats/sinks/ there, nightrecordings.
posted by scruss at 2:23 AM on August 14, 2018 [3 favorites]

Scruss- you’re right, I have heard the joke told both ways (and also witnessed people argue for an hour about whether she actually sank or was still floating before her body was found). Your version is the better comedic telling!
posted by nightrecordings at 6:33 PM on August 14, 2018

Oh, I just thought of another: The recurring gags from The Critic that use Orson Welles as a pitchman for increasingly stupid products were semi-obscure even at the time; a riff on the latter years of Welles' life, where he hired out his wonderful speaking voice for advertising even when his auteur instincts put him at odds with people directing them.

Real life example 1: Frozen peas

Example 2: Paul Masson wine (yes, Welles was getting more and more drunk as the shoot wore on)

My friends and I will still sometimes say "It's rich in green pea-ness!" and "They're even better when you're dead!" in an approximation of Maurice LaMarche's impersonation.
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 4:34 PM on August 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

"Balloon Boy hoax about as good as Terrell Owens trade rumors to Bears, just didn’t have quite as much hot air."

And others, from the balloon boy hoax of 2009 that I (and most everyone) had completely forgotten about until a friend brought it up a few days ago.
posted by Seeking Direction at 1:26 PM on August 29, 2018

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