In 1609, Galileo invented the telescope. Five minutes later, someone invented the shoe-polish-on-the-eyepiece gag. We call these prop-based jokes "practical jokes" because they require action to be put into "practice." The term also distinguishes them from strictly verbal or intellectual jokes, such as the one about the Grecian Urn. (What's a Grecian Urn, you ask? Oh, about $25 per hour if he's union"¦.) Here's a quick look at the origins of some of the classics, which never get old if you're on the "giving" end"¦
1. Makin' Whoopee (Cushions)
One boring day in 1930, employees at Toronto's Jem Rubber Company were idly playing around with scrap pieces of rubber. One enterprising fellow (the actual inventor has never been named) found that by gluing two pieces of rubber together at one end and forcing air through them, he could create an entertaining sound. Realizing the far-reaching ramifications of such technology, Jem officials felt they might be sitting on a windfall. They offered to sell their new device to novelty king Sam Adams, but he turned them down, saying that the item was far too vulgar. Other companies were apparently not as dignified. Before long, sales of the Whoopee Cushion skyrocketed, and citizens no longer had to resort to the hand-under-the-armpit method of making disgusting noises.