As you probably know, I have been a student of humor pretty much all my life. At some point around my early teens, not long before grandpa died, it occurred to me to ask him to tell me the oldest joke he knew. Since he was, as I have noted, the oldest person I knew, I was excited at the prospect of hearing a genuine 19th century joke; not some stilted words being academically reported on a printed page, but an out-loud, dynamic retelling from the mouth of someone who was actually there.
I think Grandpa must have sensed the seriousness of my query, because he took a few minutes to carefully consider his reply. I suppose, in retrospect, he could also have been eliminating certain types of jokes from consideration, but I’m going to take him at his word. He finally said, “OK, here’s the oldest joke I can remember: A termite walks into a bar and asks, ‘Where’s the bar tender?’”
OK… I probably should have asked him to tell me the funniest joke he could remember. I know it’s not a great joke, but that’s not really the point. I’m just glad I went ahead and asked him, and that he took the time to come up with an answer. I think the historical value of that joke clearly outweighs any consideration of its humor value.