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8 Moments in Knock Knock Joke History

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Think back to the first joke you ever learned to tell, and chances are good that it started out with two simple words: Knock knock. (Chances are also pretty good that it wasn’t very funny.) You may have thought you invented the pun, but its history dates back much, much further than that. Here’s a brief history…

1. THE BARD ABIDES IN 1606.

Though the exact origin of the knock knock joke is officially unknown, many scholars point to the second act of Shakespeare’s Macbeth—written around 1606—as the earliest known example. It occurs when a porter is awoken out of a drunken stupor by a man knocking at Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s door.

2. CHILDREN PLAY IN 1929.

In Henry Bett’s 1929 book, The Games of Children: Their Origin and History, the author talks about the knock knock joke as being part of a kid’s game called Buff, in which one child would bang a stick while saying “Knock knock,” to which his or her opponent would ask, “Who’s there?”

3. WRITERS CATCH ON IN 1934.

In 1934, a newspaper columnist used the following (not-so-funny) joke in a story, which marked the knock knock joke’s first published appearance in popular culture:

Knock knock.
Who's there?
Rufus.
Rufus who?
Rufus the most important part of your house.

4. WHAT’S THIS TURNS TO WHO’S THERE IN 1936.

By 1936, the knock knock joke had made its way to the masses. So much so that an Associated Press article about its growing popularity appeared in the August 3rd edition of the Titusville Herald. Titled “‘Knock Knock’ Latest Nutsy Game for Parlor Amusement,” the piece talked about how “What’s this?” had given way to “Knock, knock” as the favorite parlor game setup. “Gone, apparently, are the days when the more serious-minded settled down to a concentrated spar with jigsaw puzzles, anagrams, intelligence tests, and similar intellectual pursuits,” the author lamented.

5. RAMROD DANK INVENTED IT IN 1936.

On December 30, 1936, humorist/radio host Fred Allen produced a wrap-up of the year’s biggest events in which he included an interview with the fictional Ramrod Dank, whom he deemed “The first man to coin a knock knock.”

6. KNOCK KNOCK GOES INTERNATIONAL IN 1953.

By the 1950s, the knock knock joke had gained popularity around the world, in both English-speaking countries (England, Ireland, Australia, Canada) and otherwise (France, Belgium, India). French versions of the joke started out with “Toc-Toc,” and the punchline was typically a song title. In Afrikaans and Dutch, it’s “Klop-klop” and “Kon-kon” in Korean and Japanese. In Spanish, the joke usually rhymes. In South Africa in 1953, the following joke was popular amongst school children:

Knock, knock!
Who's there?
Delores.
Delores who?
Delores my shepherd.

7. LAUGH-IN DOES KNOCK-KNOCK IN 1968.

Knock knock jokes were a staple of the banter on Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In from the very first season of the sketch comedy show’s six-season run.

8. GEORGE ZIMMERMAN’S LAWYER GETS IN ON THE FUN IN 2013.

“At considerable risk… I’d like to tell you a little joke,” George Zimmerman’s lawyer, Don West, told the jury during opening statements. Then proceeded to unleash the following bit:

Knock-knock.
Who's there?
George Zimmerman.
George Zimmerman who?
Alright good. You're on the jury.

Crickets would have been an improvement over the reaction the “joke” got.

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Samsung’s Star Wars Vacuums Offer Everything You Want in a Droid
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Hate housecleaning but love Star Wars? Samsung’s got the solution. In anticipation of December’s Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the newest film in the Star Wars saga, Samsung has transformed a limited number of its VR7000 POWERbot robot vacuum cleaners into two familiar faces from George Lucas’s legendary space opera: a Stormtrooper and Darth Vader (which comes with Wi-Fi connectivity and a remote control).

In order to create a unique device that would truly thrill Star Wars aficionados, Samsung consulted with fans of the film throughout each stage of the process. The result is a pair of custom-crafted robo-vacuums that fill your home with the sounds of a galaxy far, far away as they clean (when you turn Darth Vader on, for example, you'll hear his iconic breathing).

“We are very pleased to be part of the excitement leading up to the release of The Last Jedi and to be launching our limited edition POWERbot in partnership with Star Wars fans,” B.S. Suh, Samsung’s executive vice president, said in a press statement. “From its industry-leading suction power, slim design, and smart features, to the wonderful character-themed voice feedback and sound effects, we are confident the Star Wars limited edition of the VR7000 will be a big hit.”

Be warned that this kind of power suction doesn’t come cheap: while the Stormtrooper POWERbot will set you back $696, the Darth Vader vacuum retails for $798. Who knew the Dark Side was so sparkling clean?


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Tales from the Butterball Hotline
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It’s 8 a.m. on Thanksgiving Day and you just realized you forgot to thaw your turkey. What do you do?

Don’t panic. You just need to call 1-800-BUTTERBALL. Yes, the Turkey Talk-Line is real. And yes, they really do have poultry experts standing by to help you with your last-minute snafus, flubs, and foul-ups. If you wake up in a cold sweat at 2 a.m. thinking about salmonella or whether you can bathe your turkey with your toddler (see below), never fear—Butterball is there for you. And it's not just about Thanksgiving. The line is open in December, too, to help you with those holiday feasts as well.

When the hotline first opened up to panicked chefs in the early 1980s, a mere six “home economists” responded to 11,000 phone calls during November and December. These days, their staff has expanded to more than 50 and they answer more than 100,000 questions. 

Those staff members have heard it all, too. They get the typical questions you’d expect turkey experts to get, of course: How long will it take to thaw the turkey? How do I stuff a turkey? Are there any allergens in Butterball products? But there’s also the, um, unexpected.

Among the more questionable calls the turkey experts have received: “Can I brine my turkey in the washing machine?” and “The family dog is inside the turkey and can’t get out.” (It was a Chihuahua, in case you’re wondering, and the Butterball expert did manage to help the owners get the dog out safely.)

Another inexperienced caller worried that her turkey wouldn’t come out of the oven because she figured it was going to rise like bread does.

One Butterball employee actually stayed on the line while her caller walked through a grocery store and painstakingly picked out ingredients for his Thanksgiving dinner.

More recently, a hotline employee was surprised to hear from a wife who came home to find the turkey floating in the tub while her husband gave the kids a bath. Believe it or not, because the turkey hadn't been removed from the package, it was salvaged—though the kids complained about the chilly water.

Don’t feel bad if you have to call the Butterball hotline for assistance, though. Even President Bartlet knows when to call in the experts:

By the way, there’s also an option for those of you who prefer assistance in the form of written word: you can text your questions to 1-844-877-3456 through December 24. The company is also answering questions via its social media channels, including Facebook and Twitter. And they've recently added Spanish-speaking experts plus their first male turkey-talker.

This post originally appeared in 2011.

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