Good enough for Punch
Writing comedy is a difficult and soul-destroying occupation. What one person may find funny, may pass another by. Then there are cultural differences and linguistic nuances, often themselves a cause for unintended humour, to consider. Even if you have cracked all that, the attrition rate for gags in a sustained piece of comedic writing is high. I take my hat off to the very few writers who can pull it all off with off with aplomb. The problems do not end there. What seemed an absolute rib-tickler in another age barely warrants a smile and more often is greeted with an exasperated sigh years later.
A case in point are the jokes to be found in the weekly magazine founded in 1841 by Henry Mayhew, together with a wood-engraver by the name of Ebeneezer Landells, Punch, alternatively known as The London Charivari. Charivari, possibly Italian in origin, was used by Francesco Stelluti to describe a ritual he had observed in the Umbrian town of Acquasparta in the 1620s. It was a shaming ritual carried out by villagers to show their disapproval of a second or other seemingly inappropriate marriage. Pots and pans were banged and, by extension, the word was used to describe any loud, cacophonous noise or hubbub.
In England, these exhibitions of disapproval were also known as skimmington or skimmington ride. On some occasions the wrongdoer would be dragged from their home and paraded through the town or village, often dunked in a pond or river. Alternatively, a neighbour would impersonate the neighbour and sing ribald songs about them or an effigy was used and burned at the end of the proceedings.
The London Charivari or Punch soon made its mark as the foremost humorous magazine of its time and to have an illustrated joke, or cartoon as they became known, was the highest accolade that a humourist could achieve. If a joke or a scenario was considered to be very funny, it was said to be good enough for Punch.
Perhaps the earliest example of it in print comes from the report of the Cotswold Harriers in Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle of December 21, 1872. The hunting party were celebrating a successful meet and a local asked the Master of the Hounds for a hare that had been caught to have for his supper. The Master refused, saying he wouldn’t let him have it even for fifty pounds. “Moi eyes, rejoined the rustic, oi didn’t know he were worth so much as that. It was good enough for Punch”.
By extension, the phrase was used to indicate the gold standard for other pursuits, even oratory. The Cheltenham Chronicle of October 7, 1873 was in awe of the oratory of a prospective parliamentary candidate, William Tally. It noted that “his address from first to last is good enough for Punch”.
Not surprisingly, Punch used the phrase in its own advertising copy as this rather effusive advert, which appeared in the Whitstable Times and Tankerton Press on March 31, 1928 shows; “Good enough for Punch is the highest praise of a joke. All the best jokes are in Punch. Take Punch and you will be as pleased as Punch”. As humour went in Punch, that is almost as good as it gets.