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Miles Matson:

An Inventory of His Joke Collection in the Performing Arts Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

Creator: Matson, Miles
Title: Miles Matson Joke Collection
Dates: circa 1950s-1990s (bulk 1970s-1980s)
Extent: 56 document boxes (23.6 linear feet)
Abstract: Miles Matson (circa 1912- ), a former salesman living in Austin, Texas, collected jokes and other comedy-related materials as a hobby throughout much of the twentieth century. The Miles Matson Joke Collection consists of approximately 100,000 transcriptions and clippings of jokes plus additional comedy-related materials.
Language: English
Access:

Open for research.

Please note that a significant portion of the jokes in this collection may be considered crude and/or offensive in nature, including humor based on racial and ethnic stereotypes and sexually explicit humor.




Acquisition:

Gift, 2006

Processed by:

Antonio Alfau and Ancelyn Krivak, 2008

Repository:

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center


Miles Matson (circa 1912- ), a former salesman living in Austin, Texas, collected jokes and other comedy-related materials as a hobby throughout much of the twentieth century. In a letter to comedian Joey Adams, Matson described the start of his collecting activities at the age of ten. Matson’s father conducted the pit orchestra at the Orpheum Theatre, a vaudeville house in Wichita, Kansas. During performances, the young Matson began copying down many of the jokes he heard on stage. He wrote, “It was fun copying down gags from the many comedians that played the theatre…In several years time I collected quite a batch of material, only to have it loaned to a performer one day in Wichita, and never returned.” Despite this early setback, Matson continued to collect jokes and other comedy-related materials into the 1990s, donating his collection of 159 binders to the Harry Ransom Center in 2006.


Miles Matson to Joey Adams, 4 February 1987, Miles Matson Joke Collection, Folder 56.5, Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin.


The Miles Matson Joke Collection consists of transcriptions and clippings of jokes plus additional comedy-related materials. The time span of the joke collection covers approximately the late 1950s to early 1990s, with the bulk dating from the 1970s and 1980s. The collection is arranged in two series, I. Jokes, circa 1950s-1990s, and II. Other Comedy-Related Materials, circa 1970-1988.

Series I contains approximately 100,000 transcriptions and clippings of jokes, typed, handwritten or pasted onto approximately 24,000 index cards and indexed by subject. The cards were originally housed in ring binders and were organized in rough alphabetical order by subject keyword. The sequence of cards within the binders, and of the binders themselves, has been preserved, even when it does not follow strict alphabetical order. The binders were assigned volume numbers during processing to help maintain their original order. Two binders, Vol. 149, Dentists- Dogs and Vol. 150, Pair- Quote, have been preserved as examples of their original state. The other binders have been discarded due to preservation concerns, with their contents housed in document boxes.

The approximately 2,660 keywords used by Matson to classify the jokes are varied in nature, ranging from themes like marriage and growing old, to names of well-known comedians like Rodney Dangerfield, to genres of jokes like limericks, puns and put-downs. Please note that a significant portion of the jokes in Matson’s collection may be considered crude and/or offensive in nature, including humor based on racial and ethnic stereotypes and sexually explicit humor. Many jokes are duplicated several times within the collection, often indexed by Matson under multiple subject keywords. An alphabetical index of Matson’s keywords is included in this guide and provides box and folder number locations for cards and notes containing jokes on each subject.

Several binders were partially or completed filled by cards indexed only by letter; these volumes have been described as A (B, C, etc.) [assorted keywords] and typically contain a mix of subject keywords not found elsewhere in Matson’s collection. Vols. 147, 148 and 154 contain miscellaneous cards that were not classified by Matson. Vol. 151, Miscellaneous [notes], consists not of index cards but rather of notes taken by Matson recording various jokes, often in an incomplete fashion. The notes were assigned subject keywords.

Series II is composed of published materials, originally also collected in binders by Matson, and a scrapbook of comedy-related clippings. Short runs of the publications Comedy Fillers (May 1978-September 1980) and Quote (October 15, 1983-March 15, 1985) are filed here, along with a disbound copy of Larry Wilde’s The Ultimate Jewish Joke Book (1986). Matson’s scrapbook, which has been disbound for preservation purposes, primarily contains clippings about famous comedy writers and performers and articles about the art of joke-telling and the psychology of humor. A few transcriptions of jokes and pieces of correspondence were also found in the scrapbook and have been kept in their original location.


Subjects

American wit and humor.

Ethnic wit and humor.

Jewish wit and humor.

Marriage--humor.

Medicine--humor.

Sex--Humor.

Puns and punning.

Quotations.

Wit and humor--Psychological aspects.

Comedians--United States.