You Had To Be There

There are lot of sidewalk book-vendors in my neighborhood, and it’s hard for me to take a walk along the avenue without noticing something I just have to take home. Today’s grocery bag also ended up containing a slim volume from 1906, the year our house was built.

The book is called A Bunch of Yarns, and I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume you’ve never heard of it. The title page describes it as follows:

An Original Collection of After-Dinner
Stories, Humorous Ancedotes, and Side-
Splitting Jokes, Contributed by the
Leading Humorists of the
Vaudeville Stage
A Selection of Convivial Toasts

The book is a bit of an atavism, and I’ll go so far as to say that it might not have got published at all these days, although I suppose in a world where O.J. Simpson’s If I Did It made it as far as the galley proofs, you never know. Boy, is this stuff funny, though. Here’s a random sample, a real howler:


An Irishman who keeps a saloon found his cash was always short, so he said to his Jew bartender one day:
“Levi, did you take any money out of the register last night?”
Levi says: “Yes, I took my car-fare home.”
The Irishman says: “Where do you live? In San Francisco?”

Such gems abound; I’m sure this one had them gasping for air:


“Is this a fire insurance office?”
“Yes, sir; can we write you some insurance?”
“Perhaps you can. You see, my employer threatens to fire me next Saturday, and I’d like some protection.”

The book offers a humorous glimpse into the minds of other races, too. For example:


Deacons Smith and Jones, two pillars of the church, were working in the hayfield of a Virginia farm. Suddenly Deacon Smith calleed out excitedly:
“What dis ah dun found in dis haystack?”
“Look ter me lack er jug ob licker”, Deacon Jones responded, his eyes rolling.
Both deacons pondered, and presently Deacon Smith said, gravely:
“Bro’ Jones, don’ yo’ allow we-all bettah drink up dis hyah, les’ some po’ weak brudder fin’ it an’ fall by de wayside?”

There is sparkling wordplay:

“I saw a big rat in my cook-stove and when I went for my revolver he ran out.”
“Did you shoot him?”
“How could I? He was out of my range.”

The sons of the auld sod get their share:


A man arrested for murder bribed an Irishman on the jury with a hundred dollars to hold out for a verdict of manslaughter. The jury were out a long time and finally came in with a verdict of manslaughter. The man rushed up to the Irish juror and said “I’m obliged to you, my firend. Did you have a hard time?” “Yes,” said the Irish. “A h–ll of a time. The other eleven wanted to acquit yer.”

Finally, we see that the furious debate over the truth of religious beliefs, which has consumed no little space in these very pages lately, is nothing new:

The Retort Courteous.

A Scotch girl, rosy-cheeked and demure, was in one corner of a compartment in a Continental train. In the corner opposite sat a heavy German. The Scotch girl was reading in the Bible. The German noticed the fact. After looking the girl over critically he asked her whether she actually believed all she found in the Bible.
“Aye,” answered she, raising her eyes to him from the page.
“Not the story of Adam and Eve?”
“And of Cain and Abel?”
“But certainly you don’t belive the story of Jonah and the whale?”
The girl said she believed that, too. The German was puzzled.
“But how are you going to prove it? Ask Jonah when you get to heaven?”
The idea struck the girl as a good one, and she said she could prove it that way.
“Suppose he isn’t there? What then?”
“Ah,” said the demure maiden, “then
you ask him.”

I’ll get back to you with those convivial toasts.

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