Old Joes

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This week’s Friday funny, contributed by journalist and author Eugene Byrne, features a number of jokes, known popularly as ‘Old Joes’ after their author, comedian Joe Miller. One of the jests examines that most taboo of subjects – a woman’s age.

The jokes

A Lady’s Age happening to be questioned, she affirmed she was but Forty, and call’d upon a Gentleman that was in Company for his Opinion; Cousin, said she, do you believe I am in the Right, when I say I am but Forty? I ought not to dispute it, Madam, reply’d he, for I’ have heard you say so these ten Years.”

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Two gentlemen entering a cottage in Monmouth last summer, one of them observed the branches of a tree entering inside the roof of the hut. “What a curious sight,” he remarked to his companion. “Yes. (said the other) it is tree mend house.”

A farmer in the neighbourhood of Doncaster was thus accosted by his landlord: “John, I am going to raise your rent.” John replied, “Sir, I am very much obliged to you, for I cannot raise it myself.”

The story

All these and many more can be found in Joe Miller’s Jests, or the Wit’s Vade-Mecum first published by John Mottley in 1739, price one shilling. The book proved hugely popular, running into several editions through the 18th century. As the years went by and the books got bigger, any elderly joke came to be known as a ‘Millerism’ or an ‘Old Joe’.

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Josias ‘Joe’ Miller (1683/4-1738) was a comic actor and singer who was for a while very popular with audiences in Drury Lane, provincial tours and at fairs. Mottley’s book was a (successful) attempt to cash in on his popularity, although only three of the 247 numbered jokes in the first edition were attributed to Miller.