The history of Elephant jokes

Elephant jokes have been around for many a year but where does it come from and is there a specific formula?

Elephant jokes have been described as the  following:

 An elephant joke is a joke, almost always an absurd riddle or conundrum and often a sequence of such, that involves an elephant. Elephant jokes were a fad in the 1960s, with many people constructing large numbers of them according to a set formula. Sometimes they involve parodies or puns.

Two examples of elephant jokes are:

Q: How can you tell that an elephant is in the bathtub with you?

A: By the smell of peanuts on its breath.

Q: Why do elephants paint their toes yellow?

A: So they can hide upside down in the custard.

Elephant jokes first appeared in the United States in 1962. They were first recorded in the Summer of 1962 in Texas, and gradually spread across the U.S., reaching California in January/February 1963. By July 1963, elephant jokes were ubiquitous and could be found in newspaper columns, and in TIME and Seventeen magazines, with millions of people working to construct more jokes according to the same formula.

Both elephant jokes and Tom Swifties were in vogue in 1963, and were reported in the U.S. national press. Whilst the appeal of Tom Swifties was to children, and gradually faded over subsequent decades, the appeal of elephant jokes was mainly to literate adults, and has lasted. Elephant jokes began circulation primarily amongst professors, and have been discovered afresh by subsequent generations of adults, remaining, in Isaac Asimov’s words “favourites of intellectuals and of sophisticated adults”.

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