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Poetry, song, and comedy was a way to deal with reality in medieval times.  Source: Ruslan Batiuk/Adobe Stock

Professor Discovers Oldest Script for Stand-Up Comedy in Scottish Library


A Cambridge academic found a rare 15th-century manuscript in Scotland, revealing the oldest medieval stand-up comedy. Apparently, they had jokes and laughter back then too!

Not even Chat GPT knows when humans began laughing, as laughter predates recorded history. But it is known that our closest primate relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, exhibit behaviors that resemble laughter. This suggests laughter is a means of communication and social bonding and anthropologists speculate that laughter has been a part of human culture for tens of thousands of years.

Dr James Wade, of Cambridge's English faculty and Girton College , found a curious booklet while researching in the National Library of Scotland . Known as the Heege Manuscript , Dr. Wade said all previous studies of the text had looked at how the manuscript was made, and all had failed to identify its “comedic significance.” However, having studied the booklet’s content the researcher said the “raucous texts” encouraged audiences “to get drunk, and to mock kings, priests and peasants”.

The earliest recorded use of the term 'red herring' in English, is found in the Heege manuscript (bottom line three and four) (National Library of Scotland)

The earliest recorded use of the term 'red herring' in English, is found in the Heege manuscript (bottom line three and four) ( National Library of Scotland )

Legacy of the Travelling Minstrels

In medieval comedy, minstrels were entertainers who travelled from place to place, often as part of a troupe or guild, entrapping the minds of audiences with music, singing, dancing, storytelling, and juggling. Dr Wade, whose new study is published in the journal, The Review of English Studies , said the newly discovered texts demonstrate the “important” role played by minstrels in medieval society.

A report in the BBC says the manuscripts were originally copied by Richard Heege, a cleric known for his unwavering commitment to fighting for social justice, equality and compassion for the marginalized. Serving as a tutor to the mega-rich Sherbrooke family of Derbyshire, who first owned the booklet, Heege copied the work of an unknown minstrel who was active around 1480 AD near the Derbyshire-Nottinghamshire border.

Chariot with minstrels and musicians playing on a decorated carriage. (acrogame/ Adobe Stock)

Chariot with minstrels and musicians playing on a decorated carriage. ( acrogame/ Adobe Stock)

An Intriguing Display of Humor

Dr Wade said his "moment of epiphany" came when he noticed Hegge wrote that the translation was written, "By me, Richard Heege, because I was at that feast and did not have a drink." Wade said this was “a rare” and intriguing display of humor” by a medieval scribe. The booklet was copied amidst social strife, however, Dr. Wade said Heege gives us “the rarest glimpse of a medieval world rich in oral storytelling and popular entertainments.” He also says the texts show that entertainment and laughing was “flourishing at a time of growing social mobility”.

One thing about humans is that when they are compressed, socially, they like to blow off steam once in a while. During the 15th century people lived with a complex blend of religious piety, social hierarchies and obligations, and traditions and customs dictated the activities of all social classes . This means people also sought enjoyment and leisure as breaks from the norm. In Dr. Wade's own words “People back then partied a lot more than we do today,” so there was plenty of work for minstrels.

‘Clapter’ Is the New Laughter

Dr. Wade said most texts of medieval poetry, song and storytelling “preserve relics of high art, but have been lost.” He added that this Heege Booklet “is something else” altogether, “It's mad and offensive, but just as valuable.” Furthermore, the rare manuscript also details live comedy sketches, or “bits,” if you’re American.

Dr Wade concluded that "Stand-up comedy has always involved taking risks and these texts are risky” in that they poke fun “at everyone, high and low." Things have greatly changed in today’s Woke world, where stand-up comedians generally don’t deliver politically incorrect jokes and carefully crafted stories with twists that make you squirm in your seat. An article in Vulture titled “ The Rise of Clapter Comedy'' explains why most modern comedians lean towards politically correct narratives and say shallow lines like “Boy, ain’t our president bad” looking for claps, rather than laughs.

Top image: Poetry, song, and comedy was a way to deal with reality in medieval times.  Source: Ruslan Batiuk /Adobe Stock

By Ashley Cowie



The global elites of today who instigated wokeness, get some of their real laughs from mocking their victims. They don't much like laughter in reverse. Indeed, they get very touchy on the subject and hide behind defamation laws and claims of extremism and racism.

They also get a laugh out of seeing ordinary Communists, Fascists and Capitalists doing their work for them. They don't get a laugh out of Christianity, although they do from mocking it.

Of course, I'm writing about Satanists again. Charlie Chaplin was one. His famous piece from The Great Dictator film was a classic Satanic joke. Hitler and Chaplin were on the same side, simply playing the favourite Satanic ruse of divide and conquer. Still, it was a brilliant bit of writing and acting.

The Devil can be very, very entertaining, you see.

ashley cowie's picture


Ashley is a Scottish historian, author, and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems in accessible and exciting ways.

He was raised in Wick, a small fishing village in the county of Caithness on the north east coast of... Read More

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