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Comics I Don’t Understand » OT-ish Question: The Smartest Man in the World

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OT-ish Question: The Smartest Man in the World

on Dec 14th 2017

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B.A.: There’s a political version of this joke going around today that I know is verboten here, so I’ll quote the earliest version I’ve ever come across, c.1970: And old man, a hippie, and Henry Kissinger are on a plane that’s going down. There are only two parachutes. Henry Kissinger says “I am the smartest man in the world, and the world can’t afford to lose me,” so he grabs one and jumps out. The old man says to the young guy “I’ve already lived a long life and you have your whole future ahead of me. You take the remaining parachute.” And the kid says “It’s okay, there are enough parachutes for both of us: ‘The world’s smartest man’ grabbed my backpack.”

This knee-slapper has been recycled even to this day (though I can’t elaborate). My question, which can only be asked here, is “Has anybody heard of an earlier version than the Kissinger one?”

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Uncategorized | 16 responses so far

16 Responses to “OT-ish Question: The Smartest Man in the World”

  1. Cidu Bill Dec 14th 2017 at 01:18 am 1

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    I remember when the Henry Kissinger version of this joke was new, and the most incredible thing about this is that Henry Kissinger is still alive

    I mean, here’s the guy who was the inspiration for Doctor Strangelove, and he’s still alive in 2017 (pretty damn close to 2018).

  2. Kilby Dec 14th 2017 at 02:11 am 2

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    I’m sure that there were versions of this joke targeted at various East Germany and/or Soviet political figures, but I don’t know whether they predated the Kissinger version, or were copied from it. There is a long history of rebranding such political humor to fit whoever is currently in power, and some jokes are strong (or at least popular) enough that they outlast not just the politician they were originally written for, but even the entire political system in which they were composed. Trades across the Iron Curtain (in both directions) were not uncommon: I’ve seen separate examples of jokes that were applied equally well to the Kremlin and to the White House.

  3. Harpa Dec 14th 2017 at 03:13 am 3

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    Bill — wasn’t the inspiration for Doctor Strangelove actually Edward Teller?

  4. fleabane Dec 14th 2017 at 03:45 am 4

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    Actually, dr. Strangelove was the inspiration for Henry kissinger, I always thought.

  5. Kamino Neko Dec 14th 2017 at 04:04 am 5

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    Harpa - Teller, Wernher von Braun, John von Neumann, and Herman Kahn. (The cite for most of them is not online, but there is an online one to the mention of von Braun, and denial of Kissinger.)

  6. DemetriosX Dec 14th 2017 at 07:25 am 6

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    I think I originally heard this as a Polish joke when I was in elementary school. I’m guessing 1972 plus or minus a year, so it could easily have been converted from the Kissinger joke to make it understandable to gradeschoolers.

  7. Terrence Feenstra Dec 14th 2017 at 09:27 am 7

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    I’ve been watching “Vietnam” on PBS. In a recorded (of course) conversation between Nixon and Kissinger, Kissinger says, more or less, “Prop up South Vietnam until after the 1972 presidential election.”

    That, of course, meant the deaths of more Americans. I wish Kissinger had taken that backpack dive in 1965, and I hope he burns in napalm for all eternity.

    I’m sorry to inject my political opinion/outrage into CIDU but, then again, I’m not.

  8. Terrence Feenstra Dec 14th 2017 at 09:30 am 8

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    Straight to moderation. I understand, but I hope you’ll give me a pass, Bill. By the way, thanks for the wonderful Chanukah card!

  9. Mark in Boston Dec 15th 2017 at 01:08 am 9

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    When I went to my nephew’s graduation at Boston University, Henry Kissinger was the guest speaker, or whatever they call it at a college graduation. This was when the notorious John Silber was still President of the university. You might remember John Silber unsuccessfully running for Governor of Massachusetts against William Weld.

    Kissinger said something like “When I first met Doctor Silber, I was 30 years old. Three weeks later I was 35 years old.”

    I thought that was very interesting. When I entered Boston University, a couple of years before Silber became President, it was founded in 1869 and had just celebrated its centennial. By the time I graduated, Silber had been President for two years and the University was founded in 1839. So: when Silber took over Boston University it was 102 years old. Two years later it was 134 years old.

  10. Usual John Dec 15th 2017 at 02:09 am 10

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    A search of Newspapers.com finds Kissinger in the earliest version of this joke, from 1977.

    Thanks for the great Hanukkah card, Bill!

  11. Cidu Bill Dec 15th 2017 at 02:39 am 11

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    I stand corrected on the Kissenger/Strangelove connections, though: obviously I bought into an urban myth.

  12. Kamino Neko Dec 15th 2017 at 05:00 am 12

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    Yes, thank you for the card. It is a lovely design.

  13. padraig Dec 15th 2017 at 10:13 am 13

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    There’s another joke I heard originally in the LBJ era that featured the President, the first lady, and traditionally the highest ranking black man in government (so it was LBJ, Lady Bird, and Ralph Bunche back then). It got updated each new president until Obama, unless somebody figured out how to adapt it. Maybe Obama and Putin and Putin’s wife? Anyway, I’ll just tell you the punch line:
    “WHAP WHAP WHAP!”
    First Lady sits up in bed: “Is that you, Ralph?”

  14. Ian D Osmond Dec 15th 2017 at 12:13 pm 14

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    I was tending bar at a function once and served Silber a drink. And I didn’t spit in it. I’m deeply proud of my own restraint. The guy was evil.

  15. ja Dec 15th 2017 at 12:46 pm 15

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    I’ve seen a version with Hitler, but I have no reason to believe that it actually dates back to WWII– it could just as easily be a recasting of the Kissinger joke to a less potentially offensive target.

  16. Kilby Dec 18th 2017 at 01:16 pm 16

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    I have several collections of East German humor, but the only version of this joke that I could find uses Nixon, Brezhnev, and (Erich) Honecker as participants, with Honecker being the butt of the joke. Therefore, it must have been recorded somewhere from 1971 to 1974, placing it right alongside (and probably after) the Kissinger version.

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