Asimov Laughs Again
by Isaac Asimov

More than 700 Favorite Jokes,
Limericks, and Anecdotes

HarperCollins: New York, 1992

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson
357 pages May 2008

Nikita Khrushchev, during his stint as ruler of Russia, was most famous for a speech he made in which he detailed and disavowed all the cruel and dictatorial acts of Josef Stalin. At a certain gathering, someone yelled out, "If Stalin was such a villain, why didn't you stop him?'

Khrushchev frowned and said harshly, "Who said that?"

A dead silence fell on the group. No one dared stir.

Whereupon Khrushchev said mildly, "Now you know why I didn't stop him."

Asimov Laughs Again, Isaac Asimov's free-form humor treasury, is fun to dip into. It is designedly free-ranging with lots of little surprises. Not many joke books refer to Khrushchev's famous speech at the Twentieth Party Congress of the Soviet Union in 1956.

Asimov has Classical and Biblical items a-plenty; men and women, sex and marriage; Asimov's own specialties of writing and public speaking; as well as scatterings of traditional topics that I enjoy such as chess and trains. Many of the limericks are by Asimov himself; I quote one here at Poetic Troynovant.

Writers, editors, and publishers as well as readers and fans are featured generously (well, at least frequently) in the anecdotes. Writers include L. Sprague de Camp, Lester and Judy-Lynn Del Rey, Harlan Ellison, Robert A. Heinlein, Samuel Johnson, Dorothy Parker, and William Shakespeare. Some names we're even less likely to find in humor collections are Michael Faraday and William Gladstone, and the Norse god Thor.

743 items. Lots of good stuff from amusing to quite funny, and Asimov's tone is entirely personal without strain.

There's often some interstitial commentary by Asimov, whether or not the joke is by (or on) himself. Just one extended example, from item #417, illustrating his sparingly-applied analytical thoughts:

When I was young and did something foolish — as happened occasionally — my exasperated father would explode and shout at me, "Goyische kup," which meant that I had "the brains of a gentile." So now you know enough to understand the following joke.

• 417

Moses and St. Peter agreed that earth was wallowing in sin and they decided to come down to the old planet and put on a supernatural show that would perhaps win humanity to repentance and virtue.

They came down to the seashore and a huge and enormous crowd gathered around the two strangers who were so tall, so impressive, and who had countenances glowing with all the fire of heaven.

They held out their arms above the crowd, exhorting them to repentance, and said in unison, "And to show what the Lord can do, we will now proceed to walk on water."

And, turning, they walked out into the ocean. Moses did remain on the surface, but St. Peter, as he walked outward, sank lower and lower. There was a stir in the crowd and Moses turned to see what was happening. There was St. Peter, up to his waist in water.

Whereupon Moses cried out, "Peter! Walk on the rocks, goyische kup."

Jews who hear this joke for the first time laugh uproariously, but largely because of the last two words. Without it, it would fizzle. One might point out that St. Peter was just as Jewish as Moses, but it would be criminal to spoil the joke. For that matter, some people tell the story substituting Jesus for St. Peter, but Jesus was just as Jewish as Moses, too.


© 2008 Robert Wilfred Franson


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