Knock-knock jokes can be found all over the world, from Canada to South Africa. Even though the French may say “toc-toc” and the Japanese may say “kon-kon,” the form of the knock-knock joke is always the same. But where did knock-knock jokes start?
The origin of knock-knock jokes is not certain, the first written one is by none other than the Bard himself. In Act II, scene iii of Shakespeare’s Macbeth, the porter who tends to Macbeth’s castle gate is awakened by unpleasant knocking sounds and compares himself to a porter for a gate in hell. Here are a few of the jokes from the Porter’s monologue:
(Knock.) Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there,
i’ the name of Beelzebub? Here’s a farmer, that hang’d
himself on th’ expectation of plenty. Come in time!
Have napkins enow about you; here you’ll sweat for’t.
(Knock.) Knock, knock! Who’s there, in the other
devil’s name? Faith, here’s an equivocator, that could
swear in both the scales against either scale, who com-
mitted treason enough for God’s sake, yet could
not equivocate to heaven. O, come in, equivocator.
(Knock.) Knock, knock, knock! Who’s there? Faith,
here’s an English tailor come hither, for stealing
out of a French hose: come in, tailor; here you may
roast your goose.
Although the jokes may be more obscure than others (the first one is about how hot it is in hell, while the last is about Shakespearean fashion), the real joke is on the Porter himself: the knocking is not a person at the door, but the sounds of Lady Macbeth assassinating the King of Scotland.