From the time the first caveman snuck up on his buddy and roared like a lion, laughter has been an essential part of the human experience, but unlike bodily functions and social misunderstandings and other things in that category (that are coincidentally comedy fodder), this isn’t a “chicken or the egg” scenario. We can actually trace the evolution of comedy from Ancient Sumeria straight through to, regrettably, Ricky Gervais.

The Most Famous Fart

Le Petomane

(Unknown author/Wikimedia Commons)

Though fart jokes are literally as old as jokes themselves, the person who really elevated it to an art form was Le Petomane, one of the most famous entertainers in the world at the turn of the 20th century. He didn’t actually fart so much as draw enormous amounts of air into his colon and then elegantly expel it, but his shows were so hilarious that nurses had to be stationed in the audience to attend to fainting corset-wearers.

The First Standup Comedian

Artemus Ward

(Houghton Library/Wikimedia Commons)

The idea of telling jokes to a group of people might seem timeless, but it only dates back about 200 years, to a newspaper columnist named Artemus Ward who realized minstrel and circus performers were getting big laughs reading his columns aloud. He decided to book himself on the lecture circuit and instead did a deadpan impression of an incompetent lecturer. It turns out Andy Kaufman might not only be still alive but immortal.

The First Guy to Slip on a Banana Peel

Slipping on a banana peel really did used to be a serious danger back before hot dogs were invented and thus bananas were a popular street food, inspiring vaudeville comedian “Sliding” Billy Watson to make it part of his act in the early 1900s. Silent film stars like Buster Keaton borrowed the gag, and the rest is squishy history.

The First Laugh Track

The laugh track, like sketch comedy, made its debut on radio, but the first TV show to feature a laugh track was The Hank McCune Show, which must not have been very funny because sound engineer Charley Douglass mostly used audience reactions from The Red Skelton Show. As we all suspect, it was created so viewers of poorly written shows would know which parts were jokes.

The First Comedy Podcast

Ricky Gervais

(Admiralty/Wikimedia Commons)

It’s hard to say which comedy podcast was the first because any moron with a microphone can make one that only his mom listens to, but The Ricky Gervais Show technically existed before podcasting. It began as a radio show in 1997 before the TV star transitioned in 2005 to the pod, which is basically just the modern version of entertainment radio, which is where all TV comedy comes from. It’s a circle of comedy life.

Top image: Dawin Rizzo/Unsplash

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