06 AUGUST, 2013
By: Maria Popova
“A visitor from Jupiter, watching a typical Western on television, remarked to a friend: ‘How come the hero has a biped riding on his back?’”
Books being the original internet, each one pulling you a little further into the rabbit hole of discovery, it’s no surprise that Jeanne Bendick’s lovely vintage gem The First Book of Space Travel led me to Outer Space Humor (public library) — an utterly delightful 1963 compendium of illustrated jokes from the zenith of the Space Race. Published years before the first human footstep on the moon and decades before our first robotic proxies on Mars, it’s at once a memento from a bygone era ($2 martinis, anyone?), a tell-tale sign of the eras normative biases (it’s always Earth “men” and space “men,” this being two decades before women would make space history), and a capsule of undying aspiration to know the cosmos, with a side of classic bisociation-driven humor.
Charles Winick, who dreamt up and edited the collection, writes in a short note to the reader:
Life on other planets has been a subject of discussion for thousands of years. Recently, flying saucers and Sputnik have served to arouse Americans to the realistic possibility of travel between planets. This possibility, enhanced by the success of our astronauts, is so real that it has entered into many jokes that have become part of American folklore.
The drawings by James Schwering, reminiscent of a cross between Vladimir Radunsky and Tomi Ungerer, are simply irresistible.
An Earth man landed on the Moon. His first sight was a Moon man carrying a sign which read: “Repent, the Moon is coming to an end.”
Two space men landed on Earth and were greeted by a movie mogul. “See,” said one of the visitors, “I told you it was a waste of time to study English.”
Two astronomers were watching Mars from the observatory. Suddenly the planet disintegrated with a cataclysmic explosion. A huge mushroom cloud billowed out in space. One astronomer turned to the other and said: “See, I told you Mars has intelligent life.”
The man in the Moon noticed Sputnik scooting by very rapidly, and asked, “Hey, little fella, what’s your hurry? I go around the Earth only every twenty-eight days or so.” Sputnik replied, “Yes, but you’re not trying to get away from the Russians.”
A space ship landed in Manhattan; a space man emerged and asked a passer-by: “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?” “Practice, my boy, practice,” came the answer.
The Russian scientists selecting a cosmonaut for a trip to the Moon have had great difficulties in making a final selection, because there were so many volunteers who were eager to leave Russia for the Moon.
Two Martians with antennae sticking out from their heads walked into a restaurant. The hat check girl asked: “Check your hats, gentlemen?” “No, thanks, we’re expecting a call.”
A Martian walked into a bar and ordered a martini. “That’ll be two dollars,” said the bartender, and then added: “You’re the first Martian I’ve seen around here.” “At two dollars a drink,” the Martian snorted, “it’s no wonder.”
Two rats were in a nose cone shooting through space. One rat said to the other rat, “And to think we might have been in cancer research!”
Though sadly long out of print, Outer Space Humor is an absolute treat if you can get your hands on a used copy. For a more cerebral counterpart from the same era, see Carl Sagan, Arthur C. Clarke, and Ray Bradbury in conversation about space travel.
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