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From a viral image I found on Twitter:

Tumblr post with a comment; the image of the joke text in the post looks has what looks like artifacts from scanning an old source

Text transcription:

thatsbelievable:

The Best Gorilla Joke of 1897

Gorilla: Did you hear about the gorilla who escaped from the zoo?

Zookeeper: No, I did not.

Gorilla: That is because I am a quiet gorilla.

[Muffled sounds of gorilla violence]


angelnumber27:

The people in 1897 were mentally in 2030

Is this an actual joke that was told in the 1890’s? It seems suspiciously like something a teenager in 2024 would find funny.

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    That's from a real Tumblr account, one that I can't see as anything other than parody. Unfortunately I'm not sure that I have any Skeptics-level evidence for this, just rhetorical questions like "do you also really think that Edgar Allen Poe was writing about a monkey detective?"
    – Laurel
    Jan 14 at 3:20
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    The pattern of writing out sound effects is very much a twenty-first century thing. Even jokes from the 1990s wouldn't have written them out like that, let alone 1890s when reading a script wasn't something any normal person did. Jan 14 at 14:04
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    Google Ngram Viewer suggests that the terms zookeeper and zoo keeper were barely used before 1920. Jan 14 at 21:24
  • Very few gorillas were kept in zoos in the 19th century. The best jokes are told about well known, not obscure things. Jan 14 at 21:39
  • The "[Muffled sounds of gorilla violence]" part seems very 21st century.
    – komodosp
    Jan 22 at 10:11

1 Answer 1

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The font in the image is Times New Roman, which was created in the 1930s, and the word "zookeeper" was rare before c.1920 according to Google Ngrams.

The image was posted in 2020 on the blog "That's Believable", whose about-us page says

THAT’S BELIEVABLE is your only source for information painstakingly researched by the capable That’s Believable team, made possible by a grant from the Institute of Believability. Our mission: To explore the area between truth and lies using the latest advances in Science™.

The posts are all in a similar old-timey style, many with noise added to make them look like scans of old newspapers. Here are some recent examples from the 2,777 pages of archives:

I can't find evidence that the best gorilla joke of 1897 existed prior to its appearance on this blog. Know Your Meme agrees:

There is no evidence pointing to the joke actually being from 1897.

It seems almost certain that they made it up.

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    here's a 23 November 1905 example of the word "zookeeper" being used: google.com/books/edition/The_Advance/… Even in 1892, it was used, but hyphenated: chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83030193/1892-12-28/ed-1/…
    – DavePhD
    Jan 15 at 13:59
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    @DavePhD First attested 1886 according to OED.
    – Laurel
    Jan 15 at 19:16
  • @Laurel The online OED doesn't seem to have a separate entry for "zoo-keeper", so it's possible the 1886 appearance was hyphenated. I don't think the hyphenated version is relevant, but DavePhD's 1905 sighting looks legit. I edited the answer, though it doesn't matter much.
    – benrg
    Jan 16 at 7:10
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    There were a few arguments I left out of the answer because they didn't seem very strong: the punctuation seems anachronistic (but I'm not sure it is), it doesn't make any sense that there'd be a best gorilla joke (how many runners-up were there?), and Know Your Meme says it's fake (Oddthinking added that to the answer later). Maybe I should just drop the zookeeper bit.
    – benrg
    Jan 16 at 7:13
  • Some of the word choices seem a little anachronistic, too.  (For example, “Hey,” and “Wait,” to start a sentence; also “clean house” with no article/qualifier, and “close out”.)  Also, would it have been common to put stage directions in square brackets, let alone write them with an implied subject?  (I'm not even sure that writing in script form at all would have been natural.)
    – gidds
    Jan 16 at 19:06

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