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What made 'em laugh back then

Don't blame me. Blame my mom. She saved all these copies of our small-town school newspaper, the Hi-Times. You don't have to read them right through. Just take the jokes, please. See how pre-rock-'n'-roll, pre-rap, pre-goth young folks used to cut up. Names are changed to protect the guilty, as the crime shows almost said on that cathedral-shaped radio in our pre-TV living room....

Businessman: Yes, I advertised for a boy about your age. Do you smoke?

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Applicant: No, but you can treat me to an ice-cream soda. (1941)

A quarter century later I heard a college speaker come out with something oddly similar:

Employer to job applicant: Do you have any religious views?

Applicant: No, but I have some lovely postcards of Niagara Falls.

Note the pattern. It came up again just recently:

A Paris Review interviewer asks Neil Simon about his 'weakest suit' as a playwright.

Simon: The blue one.

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Back six decades to our Hi-Times:

ON Teachers and pupils

Mr. Anderson: How old are you?

Virginia Ekdahl: Seventeen.

Mr. Anderson: And what are you going to be?

Virginia: Eighteen. (1942)

Mr. Fielding: Tommy, what four words do pupils use most?

Tommy: I don't know, sir.

Mr. Fielding: Correct. (1941)

Parents and children

Jim Woods: Aren't you driving rather fast, Dad?

Mr. Woods: You don't want to be late for school, do you?

Jim: No, but I'd rather be late than absent. (1942)

Mrs. Dahlgren: Where have you been?

Richard: Playing ball.

Mrs. Dahlgren: But I told you to beat the rug, didn't I?

Richard: No, ma'am. You told me to hang the rug on the line and beat it. (1942)

Boys and girls

He: Do you like moving pictures?

She: Sure.

He: Swell, you can help me move a few out of the attic. (1940)

Jane S.: How do you find yourself these cold mornings?

Melvin J.: Oh, I just throw back the covers, and there I am. (1941)

Mavis J.: I suppose that is another of those horrible futuristic paintings that you call "art."

Winton S.: Excuse me, but that's the mirror! (1939)

X.: What do you think of the Lend-Lease Bill?

Y.: I think it ought to be paid. (1941)

Heard at a National Guard drill:

Jug Norquist: Do you know that ugly sap of an officer standing over there? He's the meanest egg I've ever seen.

Feminine bystander: Do you know who I am? I am that officer's daughter.

Jug: Do you know who I am?

She: No.

Jug: Thank goodness! (1939)

One-liners, too

Mussolini's white handkerchief: The only thing he could stick his nose into without asking Hitler. (1942)

A kindergarten teacher has to know how to make the little things count. (1940)

Women are more forgiving than men. They make-up more. (1939)

Not to mention philosophy

Strange, isn't it?

What's strange?

Why the night falls -

Yes.

But it doesn't break.

No.

And the day breaks -

Yes.

But it never falls. (1941)

The times they were so innocent:

Traffic cop: What's your name?

Blushing driver: Mabel. What's yours? (1942)

And don't tell me you haven't heard variations on this evergreen even today:

A man fell and injured his hand.

"When this hand of mine gets well, shall I be able to play the banjo, doc?"

"Certainly!"

"Thanks, you're a wonder. I never could before." (1941)

Mom marked or clipped something in just about every Hi-Times she kept.

Funny, she never drew attention to the jokes.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society