The origin and history of the lowly knock knock joke is a bit elusive.
It appears historians and sociologists didn’t see the value of tracking the development and impact of this unique joke style.
Here are a few things we do know (or think we know) about the origin and history of the knock knock joke –
- During the Middle Ages (500 AD – 1500 AD) there was a call and answer routine used by castle guards to identify people during the night looking for admittance to the castle.Someone would approach the castle and call out to the guards.The guards would reply, “Who’s there?”
Some believe this could have been the origin of “Knock knock. Who’s there?”, but as you see we are missing the joke part in this scenario.
- Shakespeare wrote the words “Knock knock. Who’s there?” in his drama, MacBeth way back in 1606.It would be easy to claim MacBeth as the origin of the knock knock joke, if only he had included the last three calls of the iconic knock knock joke formula.
Unfortunately, he did not, so we are left to press on to the next showing of “Knock knock. Who’s there?” in written history.
- Next we find, “Knock knock. Who’s there?” written in Henry Bett’s 1929 book titled The Games of Children: Their Origin and History.In the book he writes of “Knock knock. Who’s there?” being part of a new to him game called Buff.
Children would strike the ground with a stick calling out, “Knock knock. Who’s there? Buff. What says Buff? Buff says Buff to all his men, and I say Buff to you again.”
This knock knock occurrence falls short of being a true knock knock joke origin because it seems to be a more of a game chant than a joke.
- Finally, in August of 1936 there is an article written in the Pittsburgh press about a knock knock joke craze.This article described the knock knock joke as a new midsummer game.
Another article, this one an Associated Press article, referred to the knock knock joke as being a new favorite parlor game.
And, the entertainment industry magazine, Variety, reported the knock knock joke was a craze sweeping America.
Things took off from there for the knock knock joke and didn’t wind down until the late 1960’s, but only after the Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-in comedy show made great use of it on their joke wall.