What is a joke? Is it just a funny story? According to comedian Lewis Black it's not that simple. Black says a joke is "delivery system" for information about ourselves and the world we live in--often stuff we don't want to hear. HISTORY OF THE JOKE, with Lewis Black, is the comedian's diverting and provocative quest for the secret ingredients of a great joke and essentially finding the greatest joke ever told. Black consults some of the funniest comedians around--including George Carlin, Shelley Berman, Robert Klein, Kathleen Madigan, Penn & Teller, Kathy Griffin, Dave Attell and other top comedians to get their thoughts on the origins of the joke and how they discovered comedy was their calling. HISTORY OF THE JOKE with Lewis Black, premieres on Monday, February 18 at 9pm/8C.

The special is peppered with jokes and interviews from over 50 stand-up comedians working today. From the comedy capitals of New York to Las Vegas and L.A., Black's hilarious journey uncovers where jokes come from (hint: they go way, way back), what inspires comedians to get into comedy, the historical elements of joking--including slapstick and physical comedy--timing (it's almost everything), the dirty joke and the science of telling a good one, pain and why it's funny, improv, the nature of laughter and the role of truth in comedy (it's the key).

In his quest, Black references figures throughout history ranging from seventh-century B.C. street performers in ancient Sparta, to masked harlequins roaming the streets of mid-1500's Italy, to possibly the first known female comedians--Shakespearean actresses who first took the stage in Restoration-era England. Today's comics entertain us using many of the same principles as their comedic forefathers.

Black recounts what it takes to tell the perfect joke--timing, surprise, sex, pain, hard work, and lots and lots of humiliating failure--all elements firmly rooted in ancient comedic tradition. Taken all together--the wisdom of the ancients, plus the experiences of today's hottest comedians--what would a perfect joke look like? Is it possible to take everything Lewis has learned in his journey and construct one routine so devastatingly funny that it is, indeed, the greatest joke ever told?

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