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Michael Grade and the World’s Oldest Joke

Wed Mar 6, 9-10pm, BBC4

Want to know what had the ancient Sumerians rolling in the aisles? Or what else made renaissance popes split their sides apart from binge eating and over-enthusiastic pederasty? Nice Mr Grade has the answers. Well, almost. This is a genial tour through the history of humour, and although nothing is laugh-out-loud funny before about 1970, the kernel of most of what we know as jokes today is apparent as far back as classical Greece (where they had ‘doctor, doctor’ gags).

Experts are consulted and self-conscious members of the public asked for their best this’ll-slay-em material, but the end result is fairly predictable: what we find funny is incredibly culturally and historically specific, so we might have trouble even spotting the comedy gold of the past.