Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


The Ha-Ha

What’s in a joke? Jim Holt finds out.

Print Email
Laughing Mask
Photo: Laughing Mask by abbey*christine / Abbey Hambright; some rights reserved.

In addition to being an avid interpreter of dreams, Sigmund Freud was also an avid interpreter of jokes, and a collector to boot—Jewish jokes in particular.

He was not the only significant historical figure who had a thing for a good yuk; for centuries, people of all backgrounds—philosophers, linguists, statesmen, and, of course, comedians—have collected jokes, and have also endeavored to explain what it is about them, exactly, that makes people laugh.

Jim Holt, a writer for the New Yorker magazine, is among these enthusiasts. His new book, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes, traces the evolution of the bit from the Ancient Hellenic world all the way to the present day. Holt tells Nextbook about the curiously named joke collector G. Legman, shares his own favorite punchlines, and explains why the word “Kalamazoo” ought to make you chuckle.

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

The Ha-Ha

What’s in a joke? Jim Holt finds out.

More on Tablet:

Klinghoffer at the Met

By Paul Berman — John Adams’s masterpiece is about an American Jew murdered by Palestinian terrorists, but the real opera is off stage