Okeh Laughing Record – The Creepy 100 Year Old Audio-Meme That’s STILL Going Viral

Imported into the United States in 1922, the “OKeh Laughing Record”–as it has come to be known–is one of the most unusual, (in its way) influential, and surprisingly enduring novelty records ever recorded.

There is nothing overly complicated about the recording itself. A solo cornet begins a rather slow, sad performance only to be quickly interrupted by a woman’s high-pitched, unrepentant, seemingly unforced laughter. She is quickly joined by a second laugher–a deep-voiced male–who, too, seems unable to contain himself. The mystery woman and man’s continuing, building chorus of giggles and guffaws eventually come to drown out, even usurp, the musical selection.

Because it was originally released with no credits or names attached, various “histories” of the “Laughing Record” have come into existence over the years. Generally accepted however is that the original recording was made in Berlin, Germany, in 1920 for the Beka label. The recording itself was an update/remake of an earlier purposefully laugh-centric recording, “The Misfortunes of Youth,” made by Henry Klausen in 1903.

newspaper ad & poster

The recording’s inexplicable, surprising success inspired a host of imitators, copy cats and pseudo sequels. The OKeh label itself issued the self-explanatory “Second Laughing Record” and “The OKeh Laughing Dance Record” as well as the equal-time-inclined “OKeh Crying Record” all before the end of the decade.

Perhaps because they were easy and quick to produce, a host of other “laughing” records also soon flooded the market, effectively creating their own bizarre subgenre. How they were ultimately used—as party background noise or for cheering up its listeners—is, of course, open to speculation.

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Even after its initial notoriety died out, the “OKeh Laughing Record” remained strangely, firmly embedded within American culture. Radio humorist Jean Shepherd (whose original short stories developed into the beloved holiday classic “A Christmas Story”) used it regularly in his broadcasts as did Chicago children’s television icon Ray Rayner. Later, the recording would become a staple of Dr. Demento’s weekly radio show.

Cary O’Dell
Courtesy of The National Registry, Abridged

“Would You Like To Buy An O” by Frank Oz & Jim Henson as The Salesman & Ernie

Unless you are Generation X or older you are not likely to understand the humor in this skit from classic Sesame Street featuring Frank Oz and Jim Henson as Muppet characters: The Salesman and Ernie, respectively.

In the 20th century, there really were people in long coats walking around trying to sell items hidden under their coats. They could be found in any American downtown, market, densely populated neighborhoods, bus stops, college campus and anywhere people might be walking around. They usually sold wristwatches and jewellery.

It was “buyer beware” if you were going to make a purchase from one of these often shady characters. People became annoyed with them and came to see them as a public nuisance. The practice was eventually made illegal In most jurisdictions. “Coat-commerce” was in decline by the 90s. The advent of online shopping dealt the final death-blow to the custom.

This track appeared on at least 80 releases in different countries and different formats. It first appeared on The Muppet’s Alphabet Album in 1971.

As a kid, I had an LP called Ernie’s Hits that I ordered from a school book club catalog. I found a photo of the 8-track version that was published the same year that I was born. This 8 track has the Spanish version of “Rubber Ducky” which did not appear on the LP. I still have the LP but it’s no longer playable.

courtesy of discogs

“Corporation” by Jack White

I have a lot to say about Jack White. I’ll try not to spend all day on this!

First of all, I knew the guy back in the day. Jack was known as John back then but I will continue to use the name Jack for the sake of simplicity. He and I went to both the same grade school and high school. I was one grade ahead of him. I didn’t know him in grade school. We met in High school.

The grade school was actually part of a Catholic Church complex called Holy Redeemer. Jack appeared in a movie that was filmed on location. He played an alter boy in Rosary Murders in part because he was an alter boy in real life.

About one hundred members of the church community were invited to play church goers as extras. I got to be part of that crowd. Filming was a lot of fun. I was way in the back so you won’t see me in the movie.

Just like Jack, I had considered going to seminary school in Wisconsin but ultimately decided to go to public high school. We both ended up at Cass Technical in Detroit. I first met him in his second or third year. I wasn’t cool enough to get invited to watch his band practice but some mutual friends got to see them.

I remember asking Jack if his band could play at an environmentalist demonstration. He said maybe, but the band didn’t show up. I also remember asking him if he liked the new classic rock radio station, WCSX. He told me that he liked it but they played “Oye Como Va” by Santana way too often. I agreed but yeah, good song.

After high school, I went off to Michigan State and Jack went to work as a furniture repairman. While still in college, I tried to do what Jack ended up doing. I recorded music and tried to start a corporation, that is, a record label and promotions business. It went nowhere fast. I had naive dreams. Jack has the real talent to do it, obviously. I admire him.

We play “Corporation” on the air all the time because it is a bit odd. It reminds me of the excitement a child feels when the ice cream truck shows up on your street. The more serious meaning of the lyrics though strikes a chord with me personally. I own this track on vinyl. I purchased the LP Boarding House Reach at Third Man Records in Detroit.

I wish I could say I took the photo below but I found it in this very cool article on TapeOp about his record pressing plant.

What is your favorite Jack White track? Have you met him? Tell us your Jack White story in the comments.

-Wacky Alex

Ten Songs About Robots Just For You Meat-bags!

This list is a result of both serious research and personal taste. Your personal top ten may be different. Let us know in the comments! In evaluating the songs we did consider the chart positions but this was not the sole criteria by any means.

Does the song have staying power? Has it become legendary? Was it groundbreaking in it’s time? These are the types of questions considered in creating the list. Also, we did not want to include the same artist twice, so one does pop up again in the honorable mentions.


NUMBER TEN
“The Robot Song” by Yo Gabba Gabba (Spanish version)



NUMBER NINE
“Monkey Vs. Robot” by James Kochalka Superstar



NUMBER EIGHT
“Robot Boy” by Robyn



NUMBER SEVEN
“Robots on Parade” by They Might Be Giants



NUMBER SIX
“Transformers Opening Theme” (1980s original)



NUMBER FIVE
“Robot Rock” by Daft Punk



NUMBER FOUR
“Robots” by Flight of The Conchords



NUMBER THREE
“Mechanical Man” by Devo



NUMBER TWO
“The Robots” by Kraftwerk


HONORABLE MENTIONS
“The Girl And The Robot” by Röyksopp ft. Robyn
“Ya Robot” – Yury Chemnavsky
“Theme From Robot Hamster” – Parry Gripp



NUMBER ONE
“Mr Roboto” by Styx

Thanks for checking out our list of robot songs. We hope you enjoyed reviewing it as much as we did creating it.

-Wacky Alex & Robot Don

Illustration on the top of this page by BenMonster (benmonster.tv)