Humor can exist only within a cultural context. To understand how the ridiculous breaks the rules, you first need to understand the rules. Hence, if we ever do meet aliens, and they ask us why the ‘ktish~z0rk*? crossed the !phlegmak’&&f, we’ll take it as a deep philosophical challenge and not the friendly ice-breaker for which it might be intended (incidentally the punchline is “because it was covalently bonded to the Terran chicken”).
With that in mind, can we modern westerners find humor in our distant ancestors cracking wise?
In 2008 British Comedy station Dave (yes, Dave) commissioned historians from the University of Wolverhampton to take a plunge down the mirth canal and retrieve the worlds oldest known recorded jokes.
The oldest dates from circa 1900 BC, and comes to us from Mesopotamia, the lands that now make up Iraq (an area known for its humor). It goes as follows:
“Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”
I don’t really get it, but 4000 years later we’re still making fart jokes. Perhaps personal humiliation is universal.
As you move forward in time, the humor begins to appear wittier to our (or at least my own) modern sensibilities.
A 10th century AD Anglo-Saxon wit let out this doozy
“What hangs at a man’s thigh and wants to poke the hole that it’s often poked before?
Answer: A key.”
Don’t forget to tip the serving wench, and try the gruel. I’ll be here until til the next waxing moon.
So what have we learned? Witty remarks about sex and the passing of gas transcend time and cultural boundaries. So when those aliens do show up, you know what you got to do. Just make sure they have keys, doors, and assholes first.