In my pursuit of archaic humor, I rely, as any detective would, on a combination of information and deduction. I have learned, when a caption aooears on postcards by different artists, to check the world of advertising or the realm of pop song. This has led me to a greater familiarity of the recordings of Billy Murray and Bert Williams, and I think I am the better for that. Whether the descriptions of the postcards in question, enhanced by this added data, happen to sell better, I will allow the market to decide.
As you have seen, ye weary hardworking regular readers of this column, we have also ventured into the world of bygone slang, and the nearly-forgotten catchphrase, And you have also seen that I have occasionally come out right where I began, none the wiser for my search through the echoing halls of ancestral comedy.
I am going to bring up a few of these unsolved cases in this episode of our saga, in the hopes that you will be as confused as I was. If you DO see at once the joke I’ve missed, you can let me know in the comments, but I’d really rather think these are stumpers. Just affirmation of my role as jokemaster around here.
The postcard above dares to somewhere around 1914, I have been through the history of bananas, and even of the song Yes, We Have No Bananas, which would lead to its own fiendish craze some years after this. But I have found no song or silent movie about a banana fiend. It could be that this was part of a series by one artist, and included pineapple fiends and kumquat fiends. Or, he may just have loved the idea of a fiendish soul spreading really old jokes about banana peels on pavements. But I feel incomplete, somehow. The question “Why a banana fiend?” will haunt me until someone tells me this was an early supervillain who roamed the streets of Gotham City at the turn of the century.
My problem with this young lady is that I can’t quite figure out what she’s doing,. Is she holding a mirror, and studying her black eye? Was her publisher cad enough to think a punch in the eye from a man was funny enough to warrant a card? Or IS that a black eye? It might be a stray shadow, and the lady is actually studying something else she’s holding in her hand. If she’s holding something in that hand. If she’s even a lady (given the tendency of early postcards to feasture female impersonators, this is another possibility. This could be a famous vaudeville performer who sang a song called “Sent By Male”. Haven’t found him yet, though.)
Now here, I know what they were up to. The publisher wanted to combine a number of icons of spring and Easter in one card. This has been done in a variety of ways, but I’;ve never found one quite so startling as this. If I am seeing this right, somebody built an Easter diorama of a little country town inside a box shaped like a cross. They then apparently filled it with strawberry Jello (that pink tinge around the village, but just as high as the edges of the box.) And then they left it on the lawn. Were they tired of hiding colored eggs?
In this case, I am perfectly convinced that this is the work of some important avant-garde artist of the 1910s, and no one has told me which one yet. The card was printed in Germany, and has no text on the front or back to explain the photo. That grimace is unpleasant for a card I would send anyone, but I wasn’t around at the time, so maybe I just don’t understand. And what is she doing, anyhow? Is she in pain? Is she weeping? Is she, as someone I have decided to ignore in the future suggests, laughing really, really hard? I have had one or two other suggestions, but really, I don’t want people to get the idea this column is devoted to bathroom humor.
And if we’re going to be indelicate, we can save it for this postcard. When I searched the Interwebs for “tickled to sleep”, I was sent to a lot of really unusual websites. But the basic explanation is reasonably G-rated. It is possible to tickle someone until they are exhausted, and pass out. There are videos of people doing this to puppies and kittens and small children online, and I hope these people are being carefully watched. But who’s been tickling whom? Is the lady on the left still slightly awake? Is she the tickler, and her friend with both eyes shut the ticklee? But how is this all possible? I can’t believe that if that much tickling had been going on that thjeir hair and clothes would not be disheveled. And speaking of their clothes, um, where was someone being tickled? They have their shoes on: we can see that, thanks to the design of the photo to let us stare at their calves and ankles (this card dates from about 1908). Their clothes look kind of tickle-proof to me, so where…how…no, I really don’t want to hear ALL your theories. Once again, I may just not be understanding something obvious to a person in 1908.
And, if there’s anything these cards demonstrate, it’s that we just don’t know what will tickle somebody else.