Very old jokes

'Stand-up' gags aired after 130 years

Jokes that haven’t been heard for more than 130 years are to be performed on the Blackpool stage this week.

Drama students will re-enact the set of Victorian circus clown Tom Lawrence, who has a claim to being one of the first ever stand-up comedians.

He performed across the country, but favoured the Midlands and the Black Country, and kept a notebook of 200 of his best gags, which was recently unearthed by Manchester University drama lecturer Ann Featherstone.

And on Thursday afternoon some of her students (one of whom is pictured in traditional garb) will perform them at the Blackpool Grand under the banner Fools And Horses.

Lawrence’s gags include: ’What's the difference between a rowing boat and Joan of Arc?’ To which the answer is: ‘One is made of wood and the other is Maid of Orleans.’

And he had a lot of patter aimed at women: ‘They ease life's shocks, they mend our socks but can't they spend the money.’

Another was: ‘Married men ought to be happy because they have loving wives to make them so. Married ladies ought to be happy because they have loving husbands to help them. And single men ought to be the happiest creatures in the world - because they have no one to make them miserable.’

Dr Featherstone, author of the book The Victorian Clown, said: ‘At the Victorian circus the comic managed audience attention for the riders and acrobats, parodying their skills in his own tumbling and contortionism. But he also offered a running commentary on the times through his own “wheezes” – stand-up comedy sets

‘The joke book is the equivalent to the late Bob Monkhouse’s beloved gag book. It was well used. Tom Lawrence would probably have thumbed through it during a performance to refresh his memory.

‘The material is very funny and contains timeless, universal elements of comedy.’

‘What we know about their joke delivery is that it was done at high speed, at high pitch and frantically. I suppose the nearest modern equivalent would be Lee Evans.’

Dr Featherstone will give a talk on Victorian clowns and circuses between performances at the event.

Published: 22 Jan 2007

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