A small selection of jokes which will stand in for all the other occasions when cartoonists and humorists have used the same joke. Not that they’re employing the same joke because they’re necessarily plagiarising each other, or because it’s a simple cliché. But because certain themes and phrases provoke the same reaction, and hence the same joke crops up. So these are intended to be early examples of jokes which are relatively flogged to death over the succeeding decades, since each time the perpetrator thought he was having some ingenious new comic idea. But there is little that is new under the sun.
from “Shel Silverstein in London”
in “Playboy” June 1967
This is the earliest instance of a recurring English joke. And it’s in “Playboy”, an American magazine. Here it has a certain freshness, because it’s contemporary with the subject of the joke, homosexual legalisation in the UK in 1967.
The joke, in its most common form:
A man is emigrating from England. He’s asked why he’s leaving. He replies, “At one time homosexuality was illegal, then it became tolerated, now it’s legal. Blimey, I’m leaving before it becomes compulsory!”
Normally it’s used by slightly bigoted people, and had some frequency in the ‘70s and ‘80s. Trotted out for slightly nostalgic effect nowadays. Here, in just about the earliest instances I can find in print, Silverstein puts it in the mouth of a gay man, which rather heightens the militant effect of the joke.