4 November: It’s Miller time

The cover of the original volume.

The cover of the original volume.

Lovers of classic, old-time, network radio have probably heard the name Joe Miller referenced by numerous comedians. (Fred Allen wasn’t the first or the last to make Miller fodder for fresh jokes in that era.) The eighteenth-century British actor inspired a published collection of jokes that became synonymous on old-time radio with old, time-worn, corny jokes.

FredAllenJoeMillerThe major problem otherwise was that Miller himself never told all but a very, very few of the jokes collected in Joe Miller’s Jests. The book wasn’t even published in Miller’s lifetime; dramatist and anthologist John Mottley collected the original edition (also known as The Wit’s Vade Mecum) in 1739, publishing it under the pseudonym Elijah Jenkins, Esq.

Miller himself was actually the subject of an in-joke at the Black Jack Tavern on Portsmouth Street, London—a frequent patron as were other Drury Lane players, Miller was said to be serious enough while in the bar that his companions fell into the habit of crediting all new jokes to him.

Which is a somewhat ironic jest at the expense of a man whose name became synonymous with time-worn jokes by way of a volume collecting jokes he actually never told.



The CBS Radio Workshop: Colloquy #4—The Joe Miller Joke Book (CBS, 1956)

A colloquial and idiosyncratically engaging look at humour over time and the actor who inspired Joe Miller’s Jests. Serious to a fault though he may have been among his companions, Miller could have been synonymous for far, far worse than corny jokes.

Host: Frank C. Baxter, Ph.D., professor of literature at the University of Southern California. Cast: Virginia Gregg, Joseph Kearns, Peter Leeds, Ben Wright, Daws Butler, Howard McNear, Jana Bellow, Joe Forte. Announcer: Unidentified. Sound: Gus Beige. Writer/director: Paul Franklin.

Further Channel Surfing . . .

The Burns & Allen Show: Playing Mrs. North (Comedy; NBC, 1941)

Fibber McGee & Molly: New Furniture (Comedy; NBC, 1941)
The Fred Allen Show: Mash Notes (Comedy; NBC, 1945)
Our Miss Brooks: Connie Tries to Forget Mr. Boynton (Comedy; CBS; AFRS rebroadcast, 1951)
Broadway is My Beat: The Paul Holland Murder Case (Crime drama; CBS, 1953)
Gunsmoke: Crowbait Bob (Western; CBS, 1956)

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