Friday, 9 May 2014

Birth of an unoriginal original gag

Ever since I posted a blog about a cartoon in Private Eye and how the gag in it had appeared before, I've been thinking about jokes and their originality, a subject I've looked at in the past. And then an opportunity to investigate the phenomenon presented itself this morning when I dreamt up, as I do on a regular basis, a joke.

Now I'm not saying it's a good joke. I'd go as far as to say it's a cringeworthily awful joke, being a pun, and nobody likes puns. But here it is:

I keep all my notes written on sheets of flakey pastry. I call it a Filo Fax.

I thank you. Takes imaginary bow to rapturous applause. So, that's the joke the leapt into my head (as I walked back from the bank, past a shop doing a sale on Filofaxes). And my immediate thought after coining the gag was, I bet that's been done before. Was I right?

My betting, before having a look on Google and Twitter, was that the gag would have been done by a famous pun merchant like Tim Vine, and that it could have happened any time right back to the mid 1980s (my memory told me Filofaxes first appeared around 1983. In fact - first research point of the day - Filofaxes were first made by Norman & Hill in 1921!)

So, who's thought of that joke before me, and when?

First version I found on Twitter was by @ScottHoad: "Just bought a Filofax. Now I can send thin sheets of pastry down a telephone line!" From June 2013. But there must be earlier.

Here's Tiernan Douieb's version from Oct 13; "Swap your Filofax with Filo Pastry. It gives the perfect excuse for being flakey with appointments."

Here's @fishisthedish making the gag by accident in June 2013 "We just noticed we had 'Filofax' instead of filo pastry in one of our recipes! Ooops... What's your biggest digital faux pas?"

In fact Autocorrect seems to have a fondness for this, as these reviewers on Tripadvisor have, I think, not noticed: "...I ordered a goats cheese and caramelised onion Filofax pastry tart."

And here's the earliest version on Twitter, by comedy writer Andy Riley @AndyRileyish from June 2010: "my Filofax keeps falling apart, but then it is made of many thin sheets of pastry"

Here's someone throwing away the two connected words, but not making them into a gag, on a Filofax thread in a Woman & Home forum in 2008 "I have tried every style size and colour of filo thingy (isn't that pastry?)"

But that's the earliest I can find. Does anyone know better? Have I almost created an original gag, despite the fact that I'm sure it's not really? Let me know if you find Time Vine doing it on a TV show from 1998. I won't be surprised.

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre ...And So Am I runs from July 30 - August 22 2014 at 10.30pm in The Gilded Balloon at The Edinburgh Fringe. Tickets are on sale already.  

1 comment:

NoelF said...

Innocent gag duplication is pretty common and is something which I have seen happen many times in the 39-odd years I have been earning my living as a freelance cartoonist. Not just with puns, the type of gag most likely to be thought up independently by many people, but all sorts. Innocent duplication falls into two main categories: the coincidental occurrence of the same idea to several people, and the idea that presents itself as an original thought but which is actually something that has been seen before and lodged in the subconscious. I honestly doubt that many cartoonists actually do (or need to) steal ideas - I think most of us have more than enough ideas of our own to satisfy the available demand.

It’s a phenomenon that I have had experience in from both sides: I have unwittingly drawn and sold a cartoon which I have learned, later, has already been published, and I have had published gags of my own duplicated. I even duplicated one of my own, once! I sold a gag to Punch which featured a bloke looking in a bookshop window where a poster was displayed advertising a book on improving your memory. The poster read: YOU’VE READ THE BOOK - NOW, READ THE BOOK. A few months after it was published, I drew the same gag again, having completely forgotten about the previous one. I sent it to Punch and they bought it and published it again! So, clearly, this sort of gag amnesia is a problem for editors, too!

It has long been said that there is no such thing as an original joke and the odds are that whatever ideas you come up with, someone, somewhere, will have thought up something similar, too. I have no intention of Googling every original idea I come up with to find out, though!

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