Cover of the 1969 book The Ad-Libber’s Handbook and the author Robert Orben
Cover of the 1969 book The Ad-Libber’s Handbook and the author Robert Orben

Do you like jokes? I like jokes. Jokes are silly. But jokes aren’t just all yuck-em-ups and goof-a-lots. They can be great tools for history-lookers. History studiers? Historians.

Jokes can give us a peek at how a particular group of people look at the world. Take, for instance, the people of the 1960s. Their jokes can help us understand both the excitement and the frustration of the changes happening in the 1960s—especially when it came to technology.


A few years back I picked up a joke book at a used bookstore called The Ad-Libber’s Handbook: 2000 New Laughs for Speakers by Robert Orben. With copyrights are listed from 1962-1969 and the book is broken into categories like “Dentists,” “Teen-Agers,” and, um... “Wife Beating.” Yes, really.

But horrifying domestic violence jokes aside, the book provides a window into the different anxieties and hopes that people had for futuristic technologies.


Below we have a small sampling of jokes from the book in all their corny glory. From supersonic jets to nuclear armageddon, the jokes reveal plenty about techno-phobic fears for tomorrow. The long and the short of it? Every era is bad.

On space travel:

We’re gonna spend thirty billion dollars to find out if there’s any intelligent life on Mars. Of course there’s intelligent life on Mars. You can tell by the fact that they’re not spending thirty billion dollars to find out about us!

Have you noticed how people are getting more blasé about these space flights all the time? Pretty soon this’ll be known as taking the 9:04 out of Cape Kennedy.

I still can’t understand why it should cost a quarter of a billion dollars to send a camera to Mars. What’s it going by—cab?


On gadgets:

Remember the good old days, when radios plugged in and toothbrushes didn’t?

Pretty soon we’re going to be a transistorized, battery-operated, muscleless society. Yesterday a kid showed up for his first Little League game. They gave him a bat and he wanted to know where to plug it in.

I can see it now. Hundreds of years from now, archaeologists poking around in the dust of what once was New York—trying to determine what caused the decline and fall of the American civilization. And all they can find is a battery-operated pepper mill.


On airlines:

It’s amazing how important movies have become to flying. Yesterday they grounded a plane because of a bad projector.

It’s hard to believe, but these new supersonic jets will be able to stop on a dime-providing it’s placed at the end of a 10-mile runway. . . . One of them needs so much space to land, they just ruled out Rhode Island.


On computers:

Did you know that computers come in male and female models? Neither did I until I saw a mechanic walk toward one with an oil can—and the computer was backing away yelling: “Death before dishonor!”

Last year automation gave us eighty-three million additional hours of leisure time—and digital dialing took it away.

I won’t say how important my job was, but when they replaced me with a computer—it was secondhand.


On nukes:

You know what’s wrong with living in a world that exists on the brink of atomic destruction? When you give up that hour in April—you’re never sure you’re gonna get it back again in the fall.

I love the way they keep stressing a low-yield atomic bomb. That’s the military version of being a little bit pregnant.

Frankly, I don’t know what a low yield bomb is. Sounds a little like my wife.

On color TV:

The nice part about watching color TV—if the good guy calls the bad guy a yellow-belly—you can verify it!

Frankly, watching color is nothing new to me. I’ve got a wife who dyes her hair... She’s dyed it so many times, she’s the only woman I know with plaid dandruff!

Would you believe it? Some of these color TV sets sell for $599 and there aren’t enough to go ‘round? Not the sets—the money!

I know a fella who bought a $99 color TV set. Now every Tuesday night he watches Green Skelton.


*$599 in 1969 is about $3,910 in 2016 dollars.


Matt Novak is the editor of Gizmodo's Paleofuture blog

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