Twin Peeks

     Being funny on a regular basis is no joke.  A man who worked behind the scenes during the Golden Age of radio comedy wrote a book about this, called “Funny Men Don’t Laugh”.  Among the issues he discusses is the fact that he and his boss (whom, for legal reasons, he could not mention by name in the text) were largely unknown.  Writers got no credit whatsoever because everyone wanted to believe those comedians thought of everything they said all by themselves.

     I had a large library of jokebooks, once upon a time, which I read on a regular basis (hence my knowledge and, indeed, frequent use of antique gags.)  One jokebook, dating to 1900 or thereabouts, is graven in my memory because I saw one of the jokes appear in the Monday episode of one of my favorite comic strips.  This mattered little to me: jokes do wander through the world without tags, and are caught and released on a regular basis.

     But on Tuesday, I frowned over the comic strip,.  Surely I remembered that day’s joke from the same book.  Interesting coincidence.

     There’s a saying in the military community: “Once is an accident, twice is a coincidence; three times is enemy action.”  When I remembered Wednesday’s joke, I got the book out shelf and thumbed through it.  Not only were all three jokes there, but they were on the same page.  In fact, Monday’s gag was at the top of the page, Tuesday’s was right under it, and Wednesday’s was next.

     I waited with bated breath for the Thursday paper.  Yes, eggplant éclair, the fourth joke on the page was the fourth gag of the week.  Friday, however, was a gag not in the book, and from there the cartoonist went on to other things.  There’s no reason he should NOT have used jokes from a book that was sixty or seventy years old, but it was an eye opener.  (And it prepared me for a time, years later, when another comic strip I enjoyed swiped an entire two week sequence, word for word and move for move, from a comic strip by someone else.)

     So I suppose I should not have been surprised when I found that postcard humorists were no different.  The postcard at the top of this column is a fairly common joke in folk literature, to say nothing of postcards: the bachelor completely fuddled by “woman’s work”.  I would have thought nothing of it, if I hadn’t run into this postcard.

     Um, that’s the same joke, and an excellent artist’s rendering of the original photograph.  No, my innocent, they were NOT published by the same company.  Somebody at the second company decided the joke would do just as well for them as for someone else, but decided not to run the risk of stealing a copyrighted photograph.

     I like it better if there’s at least a LITTLE adaptation of the original.  This play on words entertains me.

     Even if the main character is swiped from another postcard.

     I do try to stay open-minded about these things, but I admit to a little prejudice.  I assume the tighter, better printed image of these two is the original, though I have no proof of it.  Neither of these cards was actually mailed, but both are from the 1901-1907 period.  I say the second card was by a less interested artist just intent on a quick buck.

     But the next two leave me undecided.  The first card is a more elaborate production, from a company which liked to put that definite block of color behind its protagonists.  The joke is simple and could easily be copied by an artist desperate for that quick sale.

     Hang on, though.  The second is exactly the same picture, NOT redrawn.  The background (and the back of the postcard) is different, and someone has come up with another punchline.  Was this a steal?  Or did the artist simply sell the same picture to two different companies?  Anybody who can come up with two different captions for one drawing—and sell them both—is truly a master of the comic arts.

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