Origins of the lamppost joke

by John Q on May 14, 2007

Thanks to dr slack and other well-read contributors to this comments thread, I found an early version of the drunk/lamp-post/keys joke commonly directed at economists in which the role of the drunk/economist is played by a figure from Afghan (or maybe Iranian or Turkish) tradition, Mullah Nasruddin (scroll down or search for basement).



s.e. 05.15.07 at 12:19 am

Nasreddin sat on a river bank when someone shouted to him from the opposite side:
– “Hey! how do I get across?”
– “You are across!” Nasreddin shouted back.

I’ve always associated him with Sufism.


abb1 05.15.07 at 6:57 am

Hodja Nasreddin (the Central-Asian/Soviet version) had an ugly face. Once his pregnant wife says: “dear, I’m worried that the child will look like you. That would be a tragedy.” Hodja replies: “yes, but that would only be a half-tragedy; what you should really worry about is that the child won’t look like me.”


Chris Bertram 05.15.07 at 7:07 am

There are quite a few jokes there that I’ve seen in other, Western, guises. There’s a version of the lawyer joke: “I’d like to ask you three questions, what’s your fee?” “$100, now what are the other two?”


Jasper Milvain 05.15.07 at 7:47 am

Dear, I’m worried that the child will look like you. So it’s not only time-travelling liberals we have to worry about, then. There’s also a time-travelling George Bernard Shaw.


dsquared 05.15.07 at 8:05 am

scroll down or search for basement

I decided to look at the top of the page instead because it was easier.


bad Jim 05.15.07 at 10:12 am

Your bald head is as smooth as my wife’s ass!

So you noticed it finally?


Rich B. 05.15.07 at 2:01 pm

Hodja Nasruddin has an equivalent in almost every local culture.

The sephardic Jews, for example, had Joha (Djoha) the Trickster. Joha’s story’s, oddly enough, sound least like Henny Youngman routines.


garymar 05.15.07 at 2:33 pm

Every culture indeed. I’ve read that feed-the-cloak-at-the-feast story in Japan, where Ikkyu the famous Zen priest goes to a Buddhist banquet dressed in frayed monk’s clothes, is rejected, comes back in fine brocade, etc.

So obviously these stories have been spreading around for centuries.


Doctor Slack 05.15.07 at 2:44 pm

Hodja Nasruddin has an equivalent in almost every local culture.

Exactly. The parallel that first came to mind for me was Anansi or Brer Rabbit.

My personal favourite is the “You’re thinking of a different Alexander the Great; I’m talking about the one named Mohammed” story.


John Emerson 05.15.07 at 3:36 pm

“So the dentist said, ‘No, I can’t charge less than $50 to pull your tooth. But I’ll tell you what — if you think $50 is too much for one tooth, I’ll pull an extra tooth.”

from “The Laughable Stories” [ca. 1300 A.D.] by Bishop John Gregory Abu Faraj Bar Hebraeus, translated from the Syriac by E. A. Wallis Budge, Luzac, 1897. More at my URL.

I’m pretty sure the lamppost joke is in there too. All the smutty jokes are translated into Latin. A freind of mine says that many of these jokes are current in Iran.

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