The History of Comedy


How We Got Here:

Comedy is not pretty and more importantly, it isn't some young snotty concept just discovered by a punk-ass teenager with baggy-pants and stupid clunky shoes. Comedy has been around in some fashion since the day of human existence. If you believe everything you read, man crawled out of the trees about three million years ago as a little knuckle-dragging ape man known as Australopithecus. These little guys were the first in the crowd to walk upright and trust me; they never let you forget about it. Times being what they were, the daily activities didn't vary too much and about a million years later, man evolved into the next distinct type called the Homo erectus. The oldest findings of Homo erectus are credited in east Africa and are about 1.8 million years old but we aren't here to definitively establish specific times, suffice it to say that something has been going on for an awfully long time.

During the next million and a half years, Mr. Erectus, as he was known by the ladies, spread to North Africa, Asia and Europe. Mr. Erectus started to develop social skills and small bands of our primitive cousin began to crop up across Africa and Southern Europe. When two life forms began cohabiting together, the genesis of comedy was born. If you are sitting by yourself, events or personal experiences are rarely funny because they lack context and comparison. If you have been living in a cave all your life, such as our friends, no matter the circumstances, things are just what they are. You need an audience to react to your behaviors and they need you to challenge their personal comfort zones. Sitting in a cave, eating raw Mammoth meat and farting up a storm isn't funny. Sitting in a cave, eating raw Mammoth meat with a buddy and farting is funny.

Your farts and my farts are inherently different and thus comedy is born. The magical balance between the known and the unknown makes the necessary tension of a joke to work. So, approximately a million and a half years ago, two semi-erect cavemen (or cavegals) were chewing on some animal bone and a large, smelly fart rattles the cave walls. The second man, never hearing that particular flatulence timbre, smiles at the differences in styles. The first caveman, seeing a positive reaction in his audience, just about breaks a sphincter wall trying to repeat the first one. The crowd loves them and this rising young comedian is smart enough to give them what they want. Cogito Ergo Fart.

Our prehistoric friends had a diet rich in protein and raw vegetation or in other words: fart food. Up until now, cavemen would gobble down their food, usually uncooked and sat around and farted as a natural result of their rustic diet. Alone, the individual likely viewed the act of farting as a natural, non-funny (albeit interesting) activity. However, when a group of homo sapiens began living and working together, the community interactions involving the wide variety of farting styles and resulting resonance caused the newly formed groups to laugh wildly. And as everything that these people didn't do (and we do today) is cultural, or learned behavior from our ancestors, the laughs just kept on coming. However, when facing their rivals, the Cro-Magnons, the group had failed to discover fire and thus, lost a potentially impressive offensive weapon and died in the two places comedians dread: on stage and away from home.

Unsatisfied with the small time local caves, Mr. Erectus now decides to go on tour and heads north. While up north, he met up with the northern cousins, the Neanderthals, and basically kicked their asses. During the first European Comedy tour, the first joke makes numerous inroads with the Europeans and variations on the farting theme begins to replicate. Although the Neanderthals are a tough crowd, the farting material goes over very well with the maddening crowd and the need to develop a second act begins. Once the fart baseline has been established, we must continue to evolve on all levels to make it to the next level of sight gags. The use of sight gags and props fall nicely into the later stages of development of the later forms of Homo erectus. Separating from the masses with the use of tools, they were known for somewhat smaller brains than today's modern man and did not engage in symbolic expression, including art, shadow puppetry, religious objects or the true sign of a modern man, satire. Although satire is considered a highly evolved art, the combination of farting and pulling out large, exaggerated tools laid the baseline for both redneck jokes and the situational and observational humor.

So less than 100,000 years ago, very recently in comedy terms, modern man moved from sub-Saharan Africa to the rest of the world and by 50,000 years ago, he, now known as Homo sapiens, migrated to Asia, Europe, and somewhat later, Australia and the Americas, including Vegas and ten years ago, Branson. Whatever earlier forms of man were still running around, like a few hardheaded European Neanderthals were formally displaced and we have arrived to modern man, a slightly less rustic version of Homo sapiens. That journey pretty much catches us up on the whole timeline and the state of comedy for the last three million years.

Take This Period Please:

Good comedy has legs and jokes made million of years ago still work today but you have to figure out their respective evolution. To show some respect, most of the jokes that we take for granted began in similar ways to our hairy little distant relatives. This last phase of the evolution began in a period known as the Paleolithic period and it literally means "Old Stone Age." The period lasted (give or take) 390,000 years, from the very humble beginnings of modern, and progressively less hairy, man to the invention of agriculture around 10,000 BC. The introduction of agriculture was the next traditional signpost in the evolutionary road with writing emerging about at 5000 BC. Archaeologists are very confident with these numbers and they go around quoting things like this all the time with an annoying academic tone of certainty to their voices. And as we all know, there is nothing funnier than agriculture. Oh, except prehistoric agriculture.

In truth, agriculture is more of a discovery than an invention, much like the Missouri River. The fortunate people of the favored areas, if not quite as brainy as the best hunters, were bright enough to take advantage of the situation offered by their unique environment. A few of the smart ones realized that food production would support more than a thousand times as many people as hunting and if one could do the math, they would have done it but back in the day, a thousand little stones were hard to come by and most calculations could not count higher than twenty-one (think about it, it'll come). It also provides more leisure for the development of technology, including the invention of the large pointy stick or my personal favorite, the appropriately named scarecrow. Consequently, the people who engaged in agriculture soon found they could outnumber and overwhelm neighboring peoples due to a healthier and more consistent diet. My theory is that they discovered importance of pre-battle stretching but the cave drawings are not conclusive...but I digress. Nevertheless, they had enough good brains at work and so much more time to devote to work-and to war-that they were easily able to outperform and dominate the hunters who man for man were probably more intelligent but as a group, were a bit too random for successful teamwork. For the first time cultural gains began to replace physiological gains and we were driving to Fat City with a stomach full of rice. Good times.

Çatal Hüyük, the town so nice that they named it first was located somewhere in ancient Mesopotamia, supposedly near the Garden of Eden, when man as we know it formally emerged. The rest of the human story is that of Homo Sapiens started showing up, about 37,000 years ago, with a quick wit and the ability to read an audience. His (and her) descendants migrated to and dominated all livable parts of the Earth although the hard facts take a pretty good beating when we start estimating who was were first and what specific race was the genesis group. Some progressed, some regressed by working blue, but everywhere they headlined, they dominated all other creatures with which they came into contact. When dealing with the laws of large numbers, you can get some crazy theories so let's just say it was a tricky time and the sharper squads likely came out on top. And much more about Çatal Hüyük later.

The first members of Homo Sapiens to appear in Europe were hunters who arrived, and thrived, during the latest ice age. Am early entry into this new market was led by a race with a face shape that suggested keen intelligence, and in size of brain they equaled or even surpassed modern man. The Cro-Magnon's, as they were called, towered over the indigenous population and were the originators of the popular "You know you are a Cro-Magnon when:" bit that is still packs them in at many of the regional casinos. Although they apparently did not bring with them any radically new weapons, such as bows, arrows or light sabers; they easily outfought any opposing cave dwellers by being better organized for combat and very effective with both their weapons and strategy. The Neanderthals, now considered as the hillbillies of the Paleolithic age, were gradually exterminated and credited with their only one comedic contribution: the first fart joke. It is and remains a classic, however a bit narrow for wide distribution, much like Russian comics.

I Got Your Neolithic Period Right Here:

The Neolithic period was the next stage and it was distinct by the invention of "modern" agriculture. This new Stone Age evolved due to the necessary precondition for civilization was the need to domesticate animals and plants, simply because hunters and gatherers needed more space to develop large concentrations of population due to the pressures of the road. The bad food and the groupies made touring difficult and as these hunters grew long in their tooth, they knew they needed more comfort and less hassles. The small venues weren't bringing enough butts into the seats and as many working comedians today have learned, it is a lot more work to farm than to hunt and gather food. Even God reminds us of that in the Bible, when he punishes man by making him work to grow his food, rather than get it effortlessly from the fruit trees of Eden. Talk about a tough room.

First domestication was of animals, not plants and sheep and goats and subsequent Farmer's Daughter's jokes made the circuit in approximately 10,000 BC. And if there was milk from the goats, we likely had the first incident of someone shooting milk out their nose in approximately 9999 BC. However, we had to salute our friends in the Fertile Crescent (southern Turkey and northern Iraq) that in approximately 8000 BC when they made a large leap in the evolutionary timeline. What would be evolution without the beautiful idea to make wine and beer? Once that happened, stand-up got a whole lot easier.

Modern farming that provided food was a thousand times easier than the old days and at that time everything was pretty much, the old days. The food was keeping everyone alive and the stand-up comedians doing a lot of natural selection material suffered while the new brash comics starting killing with their Intelligent Design material. The food caused the Earth is overrun with masses of men who, individually, could never have stood up to the Cro-Magnons but as things stabilized, the Cro-Magnons were becoming a minority thanks to the sheer plenitude of food. Having dominated Europe for at least 25,000 years, the once mighty hunters vanished into prehistory boring the crap out of their kids when telling them about the "good old days." We know some of the reasons but smart money is on the decline of large game and the sheer fatigue that came with killing hundreds of people a day (obviously non-stretchers). As the climate turned milder and more humid and large game became scarcer, the Cro-Magnons had to resort to fishing. Forced to explore the finite world of fishing humor, the day of Cro-Magnon ascendancy waned, yet a new race invaded Western Europe and the Cro-Magnons became Filet Magnons [insert rim shot here].

The Old Stone Age came to its end approximately ten thousand years ago with the advent of Neolithic (New Stone Age) man (and of course, his gal pals). He developed a great innovation in manufacturing his implements, making his instruments better and more useful by "polishing the stone." As purveyors of finely crafted props, their reputation as skilled comedy writers suffered as they relied more and more on the visual jokes than demonstrating patience of establishing structure and running order. The other principal change, however, was an economic one, namely the introduction of a rudimentary knowledge of agriculture with the corresponding use of a variety of plants and seeds. The Neolithic-type of humor was pretty bleak; a lot of seed and root jokes that failed in all known venues, and would have really died in the spoken word recordings market (if it had been invented yet).

All This And The Stone Age Too:

The New Stone Age, or Stone Age 2, witnessed a domestication of animals which corresponded closely with that of present times and included cattle, sheep, goats, pigs, horses and dogs. The ubiquitous agricultural influence allowed people to live in settlements of even larger sizes than before and not have to move around all the time. The first permanent villages began to develop during the Neolithic Age and this brought on the spate of "Farmer's Daughter" jokes. Humor continued to evolve from roaming bands of prop comics into a higher age of the storyteller. The new stone age provided these comics with good venues and an audience capable of basic visualization. Back in the day, comics couldn't rely on sense memory or the ability to comprehend a concept that was not visible ("Last night I shot an elephant in my Pajamas. How he got in my pajamas I'll never know"). The crowd would be screaming "What elephant?," "Where's the elephant?," and "What are pajamas?" and it became apparent some material was just ahead of its time.

My money focuses on the final period of the Paleolithic period for the first real joke. Originally not accustomed to live in groups, our ancient relatives began living together about thirty thousand years ago. They were primarily occupied as hunter-gatherers and lived in small groups of about 30 to 50 people. They had sophisticated stone tools (bow and arrows, harpoons, finely shaped spears) for hunting and could sew costumes and clothing from animal skins. The key to the first laugh was the first audience and once the groups got together, the laughs began rolling in.

Eventually the people of these villages lived in simple round huts that made up small villages of several hundred people, in circular huts, with grinding wheels. These are certainly larger human groups than the bands of hunter-gatherers, but they are not yet considered a part of "civilization" but they finally established the ultimate audience comedy standard of the "big room." Originally, known as the big round room, the big room quickly became the standard of the rest of the new stone age due to two factors: theater in the round wouldn't be invented for 10,000 years and comics hate being heckled from the back. Another component of the big room was the improvement in the overall comic persona. With more rooms, most of the comics were hitting two to three rooms a night and with that, came an obligation to look sharp. Fashion being vestis virum facit: Clothes make the man.

You Are In My Town Now: Çatal Hüyük

The first settlement resembling a legitimate larger town has been credited to Çatal Hüyük, in southern Turkey. The population, about 6000 people, was considered huge and was were most of the rising young comics headed for their big break. As one headliner said, "If you can make it there, you could make it anywhere." That was especially true due to the fact that it was really the only place around and thus, was anywhere by all definitions. The town was a center for commerce, with high-toned activities including store bought cosmetics, used obsidian tools, pottery plates and instead of primitive huts, they lived in rectangular dwellings, plastered walls and floors with inside raised platforms for sleeping. This town rocked. For all their class, the people of Çatal Hüyük (or Cat Town by insiders) were illiterate which limited their ability as an advanced civilization by hampering the town's need to develop into a more sophisticated government. And the graffiti artists were completely at a loss for encouragement and had to lay out a no words/many pictures style still used today by the Pink Panther cartoons. As the Cat Town artists found out: keep it simple and work in a topless woman every once in awhile.

Without writing, they couldn't develop large political entities, as states needed to be able to keep tax records, correspond with far-away officials, and establish documented law and to bribe local officials. As a result, they were unable to evolve as comedy writers and many were forced into improvisation. It wouldn't be until three thousand years after the Çatal Hüyük, that writing would be invented and slowly start the death of the true improv experts. The people of Çatal Hüyük, burdened from their unknown illiterate nature developed their abilities as great hunters into gifted impressionists. There are documented cases of Cro-Magnon stand-up comics that were doing freakishly accurate impressions, laying foundations of (relatively) modern-day mimics such as Frank Gorshin, Rich Little and the wildly successful Kelly Monteith.

From The Hunted to Hunter:

As ground dwellers, many homo sapiens were easy victims of a wide variety of predators, who hunted them down by day and surprised them at night as they huddled in clearings, green rooms or in caves. They could not compete in strength, ferocity or speed with their attackers so they were only armed with their hands and what their semi-complex brains (accent unfortunately on the "semi") enabled them to do, they had to think or die and most of them took the adios option of early, messy and violent deaths. Only a few in each generation had the good fortune and the ability to outwit their enemies. These favored ones survived long enough to have and rear offspring. The unwary, maladroit or stupid died early and often while has a tendency to slow down their evolution significantly. And on a related note, the phrase "thinning of the heard" was first coined at this time and used in a wide variety of situations. Their offspring, if they had any, were left to starve or be eaten by predators. Thus, was born the situational reality comic, which in turn spawned Fred Dwyer serio-comedic role in the television show, Hunter. (This is all true; you can look it up.)

We all have heard that necessity is the mother of invention but true comedy comes from the kitchen table. Many foods were too hard for even a caveman or his slowly evolving city cousin to crack between his teeth. Accordingly, they were useless to early man until some genius of his day discovered that a coconut or a nut could be opened if it were placed upon one stone and struck hard with another. Better fed, the family of this innovator proliferated and began to work on what is today known as the coiled snake in the fake nut can. This fact led to the first reality based monologue, which is translated loosely to, "What is with these nuts? They are too hard to bite or open and they are too soft to crush with a boulder. What is up with that?" That genre of humor spanned thousands of years and is credited for bridging the duller agricultural based comics with the wise-ass and more evolved cousins.

The next evolution after the great leap forward of banging two stones together likely came when one of those two stones broke and created the edge. Since the edge had created the first knife, eventually some genius started using it to cut through the skin of the small animals, making it easier to get at the meat. Many of the descendants of this exceptional man became increasingly skillful at breaking and chipping hard stones into sharper tools and weapons. Natural selection favoring better knife makers went on for hundreds of thousands of years. The final stage of this tool's evolution was the day someone created the rubber knife, which when placed into the ribs of the stooge, created rubber spears, rubber clubs and of course, guaranteed hi jinks. However, this idea did not appear overnight. During this time, hundreds of younger comics died at the hands of the early practitioners of the comedy knife. Rubber wasn't invented yet so the first attempts at using the gag were marred with bludgeoned and suffering accomplices as the prototypes worked out their various flaws.

Big Head Todd and the Satires:

Along with tools, the development of brainpower, of intelligence, was the decisive force in the evolutionary process, which culminated in the appearance of the species to which we belong. Natural selection has brought about the evolutionary trends towards increasing brainpower because brainpower confers enormous adaptive advantages on its possessors. It is obviously brainpower, not body power, which makes man (and gal) by far the most successful biological species which living matter has produced. Consequently, for the first time in human evolution, one type of people, because of sweeping cultural advantages, managed to replace another type that was actually more intelligent, demonstrated today in the entire "American Idol" phenomenon.

This surely represented a crucial turning point in human evolution. Cultural evolution began to prevail over biological evolution. As time went on, cultural gains continued to accumulate at the expense of human biology. Increasing enormously in quantity, man (as an entity) began to decrease in overall quality. It is not difficult to see why this occurred as food production permitted millions to live who would have been incapable of survival during the rigorous natural selection that took place in the hunting stage and on the small club circuit. But why, if brains are so important, were the people with bigger brains replaced by others with slightly smaller brains? Why, for example, didn't those with bigger brains become the first farmers? Is that why they wear those floppy hats? Or did the smart ones just want to avoid FFA meetings?

The most sophisticated humor level is satire. Without knowing what is being made fun of by the first person or its general context, the second person can't distinguish satire from general yammering. The Cro-Magnon's couldn't handle satire, and they disappeared. The haughty Mr. Erectus would tilt his little bearded head towards you, much like a dog would look at a ceiling fan, and not see the play on words. And forget referencing any obscure F. Scott Fitzgerald quote in front of a room full of drunk Neolithics, it just doesn't work, for two reasons:
  • Fitzgerald's prose is far too flowery for your basic ham-fisted caveman.
  • His stuff really isn't that funny. You should use someone else more accessible, more Paul Reiser and less Bill Hicks.
You Can't Blame The Sumarians:

The Sumerians, were the first people to have a history as they were the first to actually learn how to write. When one becomes the first person ever to write, you gain some serious advantage on the less inclined folks that are more concerned about today's three squares than leaving a legacy. After a few weeks of scribing, everything that had happened up to this moment was credited to the Sumerians and a month later, the entire future of the planet was mapped out thanks to a few Sumerians who perfected the cut and paste rule. Never a group to let facts get in the way of a good story, their skills in bending facts and fiction together even effects current historians. Even today, when faced with a short answer question on any ancient history final, undergrads are safe to go with the guess of "Sumeria" or "the Sumarians."

The Sumerians hit their stride roughly in 3300 BC to 2000 BC timeframe and of course, were credited with developing a legal system, various technologies, and all their successful fishing stories. They had stories coming off the presses that made them the center of the Universe. If challenged, a Sumerian would give a squinty smartass look and say, "Don't believe me? Look it up." In light of their leaps forward, Second City was born right in the middle of the Sumerians backyard of southern Mesopotamia. Mesopotamia, or M-town to the traveling comics, was named due the Sumerian phrase meaning, the land "in the middle of the rivers." The rivers in this case, the Tigris and Euphrates, which eventually became the site of Two Rivers Stadium. Furthermore, the Sumerians were legendary prop comics and expanded their act to add volumes of jokes on irrigation. The need to irrigate was one reason that the people there developed complex forms of social organization; they had to act as improv groups to build and maintain canals and to keep other groups from taking their water or raiding their food stores. Again, the humor potential of agriculture remains unrivaled but the constant insistence of Sumarians that they are the creators of all things wears pretty thin. If you hang out with a group of them, they will have you believing that not only did they also invent the waffle, they invented standing in line (for the waffle). A word of advice: don't argue with Sumerians. They hold grudges and it is basically "let's talk about me" for the whole night despite anyone's best efforts.

Make It More Funny (The Invention of Scripts):

In 3300 BC, as stated above before the tangents appeared, the Sumerian people of these city-states invented the first recognizable writing called by them, cuneiform. It was a bit process poor since they didn't have paper; so they wrote on wet clay tablets with a metal stylus or on the forehead of a passed-out roommate. These clay tablets still survive in Iraq in the thousands including tax records, letters, screenplays, wills and a wide variety of creation stories, for all their customers: Sumerians, Babylonians and Assyrians. It wasn't exactly a neatly stackable product and after a few years of this Flintstone-type invention, people started to literally stumble over new literature. Sadly, none of the passed-out roommates made it more than a couple of years.

One would perhaps like to think that the Sumerians invented writing for grand purposes: for literature, poetry, religious histories, or even to write letters to friends. Instead the first readable texts are mundane treatments for situation comedies and lots of record keeping. These records include lists of grain, animals, slaves received by the temples and the actual written symbols were pictographs, simple pictures that represented objects. Of course, the problem with this is that you would have thousands of pictures as the plan was for these objects to represent nouns. But the real fun came when the Sumerians used signs to represent sounds. An example is the ideogram for Water," which in Sumerian was pronounced "a". "A" also meant "in," (the preposition) but the lazy-ass scribes began to use the ideogram for water to mean both "water" and preposition "in". Writing started to represent phonetic sounds, instead of objects or ideas. They needed much fewer of them to write their language than pictograms but it took them awhile to do the math since every conceivable object had to have its own symbol. This got ridiculous (the phrase "What in the hell do they mean by that?" was created during this period) and eventually the Sumerian cuneiform slowly turned into an alphabet in which syllables were represented, not individual sounds. They were finally on their way and we were far closer to the limerick than ever before.

As with any good thing, it eventually ends. Between 2800 BC and 2300 BC, Sumerian war leaders began to take over and impose a military vibe on the whole area. The cities built walls, slavery increased due to war victories resulting in a LOT more slaves, metal weapons were forged and the attitudes of these folks were bordering on the troublesome. I think the man in charge at the time, Phil or Doug Gilgamesh (not totally sure on the first name), ruled a large Sumerian city of Uruk around 2700 BC, as war leader. Uruk was fortified at that time and rulers of cities like Uruk began to rule other cities, forming states of hundreds of thousands of people. The parties were a bit less festive for awhile and forget trying to get some house remodeling done. And as we all know: War does horrible things to people and it has a terrible effect on comedy, just look at Bob Hope.

Can't Live With Them, Can't Live Without Them:

Like today, a person's class affected how much protection they got from the laws: if an aristocrat injured a slave, he just paid a fine to the owner for a commoner, a larger fine to the family and perhaps muttered a polite "Sorry, my bad." Among equals, "an eye for an eye" code applied; if you destroyed someone's eye, you lost your own eyes. Women in ancient Mesopotamia were not equal to those of men. But in early periods, women were free to go out to the marketplaces, buy and sell, attend to legal matters for their absent men, own their own property, borrow and lend, and engage in business for themselves. High status women, such as priestesses, real estate agents and members of royal families, might learn to read and write and be given considerable administrative authority.

Thanks to the Babylonians, advanced number systems began to appear. The base was 60 rather than the base 10 of our present system and it was the Babylonians divided the day into 24 hours, each hour into 60 minutes, each minute into 60 seconds. This form of counting has survived but the Babylonians had one slight flaw: was their lack of a zero. This meant that numbers did not have a unique representation but required the context to make clear whether 1 meant 1, 61, 3601, etc. The Sumerians still give them shit about that but more and more wrinkles were getting worked out all the time.

So, A Priest And a Rabbi Go Into A Bar:

As man's brain continued to evolve, his often incomprehensible jabbering and outcries came to have increased meaning. At first, he was capable of only a few utterances to warn against enemies. Then other sounds were added. He learned how to call his fellow hunters to the kill; how to call his family to help him bring in the game. Eventually men were able to, by speech and gesture, to organize attacks on large beasts and successfully attempt to pick up an entire woman's softball team. Scouts could announce they had just sighted a group of grazing animals or drunken ball players and the plan would actually come together with a lot less grunting and a lot more planning. Slowly language took shape, which allowed for story telling, which beget situational humor including the birth of pig Latin, onion gum and and jokes finally involving primates.

As a result of these efforts, speech is obviously the greatest of all man's early accomplishments. His tools were crude and his brain was still far from matching that of his descendants and the early dyadic results started with knock-knock jokes. With the development of language, however, he could transmit important information to other men and to his family and eventually, the important information was supplanted with hypothetical or ironic combinations of facts. Most creatures have a very limited repertory of emotional and informational cries so adding a low-level story with an obvious punch line encourages the call and response situation. Following that humor concept through to the symbolic pie in the face, we have to remember that a word is an instrument of thought and the naming of things are the great difference that separates the human mind from animal minds. There are other differences, including our ability to have phone sex or to accessorized our clothes, but now I am just nit picking. By means of language, the ideas of the brightest individuals were widely disseminated as well as the most recent circumstance joke, whether it be something about Monica Lewinsky or some other topical target. The unimaginative could now profit from the ideas of others and as words gave wings to thoughts, the thinking of a few was of great benefit to all that could understand and imitate. Thus gave birth to the celebrity impressionists.

And Just A Few Words About Fire:

As we can surmise how the earliest and crudest implements were discovered or devised, we can also imagine how fire might have been captured. It may have first occurred after a stormy night, hundreds of thousands of years ago, when a great pine was set afire by a bolt of lightning. Nearby a primitive family huddled together in a cave, awed by the anger of the (lower "g") gods. At daybreak that part of the pine, which had been dead and dry, was still burning. The men and women ventured closer, staring at the flames and smoke from the once familiar tree. At this time, we are one small step away from the first flamer.

The confused crowd would be seeking some rational solution: the dying tree's ascending spirit, some unearthly event or Larry the Fire god (again, a small "g"). Often man burned himself while tending the fire but eventually skill sets were developed as through experience one would learn that a breeze made it burn brighter, he learned to blow upon his fire when it started to smolder. Such was man's first conquest of a primary force of nature; his first source of power outside his own muscles makes for fine parlor banter. Fire made him the first super party animal and by nature, it was a small room. So only a few could grasp a new idea quickly; it was a lot like working the Copa. To most of the cave folk, fire was a frightful thing but many avoided it, fearing the displeasure of the spirits. In some places fire-worshiping cults sprang up and limited fire to holy uses. It seems man had fire for many thousands of years before he used it for cooking. So great was the advantage of fire that those who did not know how to make use of it could not long compete with those who did. Today, there is no human society which does not have fire, though the Andaman Islanders still do not understand how to kindle it and so must tend it perpetually through rain and storm. Not the deepest lagoon on the island, if you get my drift.

The Big Picture of Progress and Hunger:

In those remote times there were men of many sizes and shapes. Man was far more varied than he is today. Ape-men, small-brained men and six-foot men all dwelt in their respective territories. At times they met and fought. Inevitably the less intelligent competitors in each area were killed off by those who were able to devise better weapons or wield the ones they had more effectively. But even for the most intelligent the threat of hunger hung like a dark cloud over all hunting peoples. Only the keenest and those with the most foresight survived. When there was a food shortage-and in temperate climates this was the prevailing condition in winter the able hunters who captured the existing food supply might starve competing families to death without ever coming face-to-face with them.

And as the weak grew weaker, the strong grew stronger. Now and then mutations in the direction of more brain cells and greater intelligence would occur, giving their possessors a better chance to survive and to out breed the less advantaged. At other times the mating of two exceptional people would produce some superior offspring. This dual process-advantageous mutations and sexual recombinations-was the key to biological progress. And there is nothing like horny and lucky people going out on the town. Lacking horns or fancy book learning, man used his brain and hands to make spears, which were more effective than any horns. Without claws or fangs, he developed knives, which were superior to either. Given a poor sense of smell and need to blame the origin of his farts, he learned to enlist dogs to overcome his olfactory deficiency and social failings. Once hunted by fierce animals, he gradually learned how to kill them and clothe his nakedness in their very skins and looking extremely fly in the process.

Our clear-thinking forebears managed to live until they could transmit their intelligence to their children and eventually to us. In times of trouble, only those few in each generation whose mentality shine a little brighter than the rest survived. Many were tested, but few passed and it reminded most of us of the SAT's.Selection for intelligence went on for innumerable generations. In all that time, if there had been even one member of your ancestry who failed to live to adulthood, or having lived, failed to reproduce, you would not be here. For more than a thousand millennia, natural selection kept the population of our hunting ancestors below one million. Later, when the discovery of agriculture made food much more abundant, when the proportion of those who did not die of hunger or in combat was greatly reduced, the number of human beings increased in only 13,000 years to more than four billion. This tremendous upsurge indicates how sternly natural selection had been at work during the myriad centuries of man's hunting stage. We have no idea how tough a room that was.

Sure, other factors, including strength, the ability to make waffles and dumbass luck, entered in, but the chief dynamic force for human progress was intelligence. On the other hand, the main evolutionary drive of the large apes, many of who were also ground dwellers and partially erect, were in the direction of greater muscles instead of greater brains. Intelligence came to be the most human thing about humans. The trend toward increased brain size is the most continuous, long-lasting, and marked hallmark of humanization. That and the ability to consistently use the "Hey, pull my finger" joke. Now, that is intelligence.

You Have Been A Wonderful Audience:

To discuss comedy, you have to be careful. What is funny to you is not necessarily funny to someone else. Your mother laughs at one thing, you laugh at another and when you compare them, they have nothing in common. In that regard, it is doubtful that there any many funny things that transcend age and culture. The one guiding principle is that comedy is not saying funny things, but saying things funny. So men like simple and direct humor, ranging from The Three Stooges to sports bloopers to the genesis of them all, fart Jokes. This type of humor is a basic celebration of human bodily functions and familiar things doing unfamiliar things can be amusing to the right person. A belch that is loud and obnoxious is funnier than a belch that is suppressed and a belch that sounds like a car horn would thus, be hilarious. By my research, comedy began as soon as a one-cell organism became a two-cell organism. Finally, an audience was created and the fine balance between comedian and audience was created. Since comedy is based on what one knows, we finally had something to work with back then. Doing fifteen minutes in the primordial ooze isn't exactly the big room at Caesars, but it's a start. The life form continued to evolve and with that, his act. As a monkey/ape man combination, banana jokes are the norm and you are finally getting closer to observational humor. As one monkey/ape man is doing ten minutes on ticks, another ape man is stealing his material for his own act. Just change ticks to fleas, add a joke about "How many fleas" and you are one step away from your own headlining gig. Cave humor falls into three categories: food, shelter and of course, women. This still works today as the premise of "Did you ever wonder why..." can be placed in front of almost any comment and you are halfway home. Finally, wise comedians are also proponents of the old saw, "Comedy is tragedy plus time." While it is true that time can heal almost any adolescent memory, comedy is also tragedies aided by fruit peels. A morbid tendency of people is to seek the suffering of their fellow human and enjoy a trip or a fall. Ideally, no one gets hurt too bad but if they do, well, it's then God's will.

Good night everyone! Thanks for coming and the Neolithic audiences are the greatest audiences in the world!

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