Miscellany

"A Nymph, a Naiad and a Satyr Walk Into A Bar..."

Statue of Caesar Augustus

The more things change...: "Friends, Romans, countrymen...wocka wocka wocka!" iStockphoto.com hide caption

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Reuters reports that Monty Python's legendary "Parrot Sketch" draws on many of the same ideas found in a bit from a recently-discovered 4th Century Greek joke book. Of course, back then it wasn't pet birds that were being returned by irate customers but slaves (the Python routine having succumbed to the pressures of political correctness), but the concept was the same. We're not sure why that's news, though. It's long been an open secret that modern comedy is little more than a gloss on the classics. Hard to believe? Check out some more surprising examples:

* Saturday Night Live's "Land Shark" sketch originally involved an errant Charybdis.
* "You might be a minotaur if..."
* Bugs Bunny cartoons borrowed directly from the tales of the Norse trickster god Loki; famed "What's Opera, Doc?" nothing but a word-for-word retelling.
* Diogenes searched Athens in vain for an honest man, paving the way for Jon Stewart.
* Obscure myth of Pythagoras swallowing a bitter poultice to transform temporarily into Narcissus bears eerie similarity to plot of Jerry Lewis's The Nutty Professor.
* Like Steve Martin, ancient Roman gladiators often had arrows through their heads during performances. Also, lions' jaws.
* Penn and Teller's fork-in-the-eye trick pioneered by the Oracle of Delphi, though the splatter no longer used to predict the success of military excursions.
* "Your momma's so cheap, she makes King Leonidas of Sparta look like King Midas of Pessinus."
* The entirety of Jackass cribbed from the little-known Twelve Other Labors Of Hercules.
* "The 39-Year-Old Man" routine debuts to little fanfare in 1 A.D.; remains unsuccessful until Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks get a hold of it much, much later.
* Sisyphus:boulder::Charlie Brown:football. Actually, that one you can pretty much take to the bank.

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