You can absolutely listen to the recordings today, which is like jumping into the world's most specific time machine to experience a snapshot of bygone entertainment designed exclusively for horrible people. You see, in addition to benign genres like brass bands, opera singers, and Spanish lessons, there were also fantastically horrific comedy records which seemingly consisted entirely of bad puns, fat jokes, and infanticide. Here's a typical joke recorded in 1899. If you can't listen to the audio at the link, we've transcribed it for your pleasure:
Billy: Hey Sammy, can you tell me how to make a lean baby fat?
Sammy: Why no, Billy, how would you make a lean baby fat?
Billy: Drop him out of a third-story window, and he'll come down plump!
Sheri Blaney/Photolibrary/Getty Images
That period's high infant mortality was 90 percent due to dead baby jokes.
Honestly, no one should be surprised that this is the type of joke Edison would preserve for history. And then there's this 1904 comedy bit that is basically anti-automobile propaganda (something that was common in that era, when cars were seen as toys for reckless rich assholes). In this bit, a nervous man, Reuben, goes for a ride in a newfangled Cyclone automobile, only to have the wealthy driver turn out to be a psychopath who enjoys how clearly deadly his new contraption is:
Reuben: Hey, are you going faster than the limit?
Driver: Hold your breath and I'll show you MY limit!
Reuben: Hey, look out for that chicken! You killed him!
Driver: That was a fowl! [laughs.]
Reuben: Say, there's old constable Skinner and his setter dog.
Driver: Setter, eh? He'll lay flat after I hit him!
[Sound of dog yelping in pain]
Reuben: You killed him, too! Why, this is worse than murder!
Driver: Why no, it prevents murder. How can anyone commit a murder after an auto hits them?
Damn it, when will the world wise up and prevent these "automobile" owners from playing god!