History through humour

In 2002 I suddenly found myself with a lot of free time on my hands.

Since idle hands are said to be the devil’s playground, I figured this was as good a time as any to develop my very first proper web site. The HMVHumourList on the Web was launched in late 2002 as a simple, hand-created HTML version of the current incarnation of the joke mailing list I maintained. In time, the site grew beyond its hosting limitations, and I grew bored of it as interests moved elsewhere.

By the middle of 2008 the email format was abandoned in favour of a Google Group.

Interests having now settled to what was envisaged over a decade ago, that site as well as its own originators have been laid to rest in all their buggy glory:

Sure, in the grand scheme of things they’re just a bunch of jokes.

On the surface, it’s merely a sizeable collection of funnies — I will grant you that. And once you delve deeper into the annals of these shitty old jokes you will discover that many of them ain’t funny no more because, well, they’re old. Some have been re-told a million times.

Worse still is that most are dated to the extent that much of today’s audience won’t be able to grasp their relevance and context. They won’t always “get” it. Today’s readership won’t necessarily understand the situations described, the circumstances these progenitors find themselves in, or the geopolitical environment of the protagonist — let alone the technological status of the period.

There was a time when Michael Jackson was known primarily as a freaky sexual predator and therefore joined the Catholic Church as the butt of many jokes. When the Pentium FDIV bug was relevant, “Android” didn’t refer to a phone OS but a role that made the current governor of California a major movie star. This was the time before smartphones, iPods, and near-universal broadband internet access, and before everyone and their cat was on Facebook and/or Twitter.

As a result, there’s some historical relevance in them thar jokes.

ASCII header of the first H-MAIL joke collection

The 15-year epoch these jokes cover would do history injustice if it didn’t include Bill Gates and “his” revolutionary Windows 95 which brought about world peace by replacing the black screen of DOS with a blue screen of death to the tune of the Rolling Stones’ “Start me up”. There’s Slick Willy Clinton’s improper relationship with one Ms. Lewinski as well asĀ  Lorena Bobbitt and OJ Simpson’s cutting-edge spousal adventures. George Dubya Bush and Dan Quayle (soon to be usurped by Sarah Palin) are other firm favourites while equally in/famous names of the time include Kurt Cobain, Jack Kevorkian, Microsoft “Bob”, Steven Wright, Dave Barry, Cindy Crawford, Winnie Mandela, Divine Brown, Crazy Frog, and the Anna Kournikova virus.

We poked fun at the sexual misadventures of David Beckham, George Michael and Hugh Grant. We laughed at Paul McCartney’s divorce, the capture of Saddam Hussein, and we feared that either the “Good Times Virus” or Y2K would surely destroy Terra Firma before terrorism, 9/11 and 7/7 really did re-program our collective notion of freedom some months later.

We expressed our fears and disgust of Star Wars Episode I, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Bosnian War, the SARS epidemic, the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami, a spate of Palestinian bus bombs, two Iraq Wars — and then some Danes just had to irk hard-ass muslims with cartoons of their hero.

Humour documented the emergence of cellphones, the WWW, 419 scams, and MP3 file sharing, and it was there during the rise and demise of the true Stella Awards. It witnessed the death of the Pope, Princess Diana, the Queen Mum, Sam the world’s ugliest dog, and rec.humor.funny as a relevant source of jokes.

And in rare cases, it is not the individual joke topics that are noteworthy — but rather those who posted them: some of the more famous names used to sign off include YouTube co-founder Jawed Karim, mathematician Jonathan Partington, Matt “The Simpsons” Groening, and Scott “Dilbert” Adams.

May you laugh in interesting times.

Screenshots by hmvh DOT net

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