The Glasgow International Comedy Festival enters its 13th year and it is appropriate that this city hosts the largest comedy festival in Europe.
As many of you will be aware, Scotland and its people have invented many things: the television, tarmac, penicillin, the munchy box and sectarianism to name but a few. What you may not know is, Scots and in particular, Glaswegians, invented jokes. This monumental moment happened in 1975 completely by accident.
Of course that is not to say humour didn’t exist before 1975. As far back as the Neolithic period jokes were to be found. One of the first ever cave paintings discovered was of prehistoric man setting light to one of his own farts. The Romans advanced the idea of jokes, building a road network, allowing countless chickens to cross for various hilarious reasons. In 1697, the first spoken joke was almost heard in Edinburgh, when a young man named James Aiken, said to his friend “My dog has no nose.” His friend naturally questioned, “How does it smell?” Before Aiken could deliver his witty retort, he was captured by the Presbyterian Church who had misheard the word dog for God. Aiken was then tortured and hung for blasphemy.
Humour sadly was rationed during the Second World War with people only allowed to smile once every 17 days. After the War, it was thought that the Nazi killing machine had crushed Britain’s ability to laugh forever. That was until one fateful day in 1975, when a young homeless man from Glasgow called William Connolly was asked to appear on the world’s only TV show, Parkinson. Parkinson, now more famously known as a disease, was a great lover of the lost art of jokes and could often be found hanging around London’s salubrious laughter speakeasies with other known japesters like Alvin Stardust, Salmon Rushdie and Martina Navratilova.
Inviting Connolly on his show to talk about bananas, Connolly went against his agent’s advice and instead told a joke about a man penetrating his dead wife with a bicycle. Initially the nation was shocked, until Parkinson laughed so hard he soiled himself. The nation laughed with him and from then on, that day was known as “the day the misery died”.
Connolly himself became the flag bearer for jokes, touring the country giving other “comedians” the strength and courage to out themselves to their families. Glasgow always remained the training ground for comedians. Many tell of the early Apollo shows where a comedian was given 5 seconds to make an audience laugh and if they didn’t, they were shot in the head by a sniper sitting in the balcony. Sadly this claimed the lives of Cannon and Ball.
To this day Glasgow is home to some of the finest comedians in the world as well as countless mediocre ones. There truly is no better place to see comedy than the dear green place.