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Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor

Isaac Asimov's Treasury of Humor (1971) by Isaac Asimov.

I don't think I've done any bookblogging this year, so I thought I would ease back into it with this pretty slight item.

My late father taught Sunday School, and he used this as a resource for many of his opening jokes before he started on the lessons. I used it as bathroom reading, though I had read it before back in my early teens and remembered very little of it. Not surprising, since it's not very memorable; and not very funny, either, full of chestnuts that were stale at the time of publication forty years ago (and thus perfect for a Senior Men's Sunday School class). I only chuckled a couple of times, at best, and usually was left completely stone-faced. It's also very sexist, which Asimov's repeated assertions that he is a feminist don't do much to remedy.

A few points of interest among the general drabness:


  • He misattributes "I wonder how one augur can pass another on the street without laughing" to Cato the Elder, when it was actually Cicero. And thus he misses getting to point out that Cicero was himself actually an augur. (IIRC, Cicero makes the infamous comment in a private letter when he was actually running for the office.)
  • Asimov includes the 'teeth in Hell' joke ("In Hell there will be gnashing of teeth!" "But Reverend, what if the damned are toothless?" "In Hell teeth will be supplied!") IIRC - maybe I read it in Bart Ehrman somewhere - some twentieth-century theologian prankster made a pseudepigraph where that is a bit of dialogue between Jesus and his disciples. (Still not funny.)
  • There's a joke about building a supercomputer, asking it if there's a God, and getting the response from the computer that, "There is now!" Asimov then mock-petulantly complains that it's a de facto rip-off of his story "The Last Question." He generously allows, though, that maybe the joke is older than his story. Well, yeah, since it's basically a paraphrase[1] of Fredric Brown's "Answer." That was published in 1954. Asimov's "The Last Question" came out in '56. Wow, at least the possibility of two plagiarism lawsuits there! I assume nothing ever happened on that front -- Brown died the year after this book was published, which may have something to do with it.

[1] The joke actually seems a bit longer than Brown's original short-short.

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