This gag from 1714 is thought to be the earliest known viola joke

19 November 2020, 17:14

Viola jokes burn the worst
Viola jokes burn the worst. Picture: Getty

By Rosie Pentreath

Never gets old, unless it’s... old.

Don’t shoot the messenger, but this joke from 1714 could be the earliest known viola joke.

According to Wiki, the well-trodden genre of the viola joke could have been around since as far back as 1714. A story from 1700s Italy is thought to be the origin of all viola jokes we know and love today.

A Martin Butler has said he spotted this in a concert programme note: “The violinist Francesco Geminiani arrived in London in 1714, one of the many expatriate musicians who settled in England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries,

“As a young man Geminiani was appointed head of the orchestra in Naples, where according to English music historian Charles Burney he was ‘so wild and unsteady a timist, that instead of regulating and conducting the band, he threw it into confusion’, and was demoted to playing the viola.”

Okay, so not a punchline that totally slaps, but it’s a steady foundation for “What do you call someone who hangs around with musicians?” and “Q: How can you tell a violist is playing out of tune? / A: The bow is moving” for sure.

Read more: The 12 funniest viola jokes of all time >

As well as the earliest known viola gripe, this particular article gives us a handy guide to what a viola joke is.

“Viola jokes are jokes which are directed towards violas and viola players, and are thought to have originated in the 18th century,” Wikipedia intones.

“Violas at the time were mainly used for relatively easy, accompanimental parts, not as solo instruments, and (hence) viola players were lowly paid and of low social standing.”*


* Classic FM does not endorse this message. We believe all instruments are created equal.