Ellen DeGeneres? Woody Allen? Joe Doyle? The Flying Karamazov Brothers? George Burns? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: There is a joke based on the biblical creation story that contains the famous line “Let there be light”. The punch line of the gag is:
There was still nothing. But you could see it a whole lot better.
Two prominent comedians have received credit for this humor: Ellen DeGeneres and Woody Allen. Would you please examine this topic?
Quote Investigator: Ellen DeGeneres began performing as a comedian in 1980 according to the biography “Ellen: The Real Story of Ellen DeGeneres” by Kathleen Tracy. This joke was included in her stand-up act circa 1983. Yet, interestingly, the jest was circulating during the previous decade.
The earliest strong match located by QI appeared in a 1978 newspaper article about a touring company of the “The Second City” improvisational comedy organization. The company was visiting Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan to perform and give a workshop. Joe Doyle was a member of the comedy troupe, and he delivered a version of the joke: 1
Now Joe Doyle was an Irish priest, using rich brogue to read from First Chrysanthemums:
“In the beginning, there was nothing. The Lord said, ‘Let there be light.’ Then there was still nothing. But you could see it.”
This jest can be phrased in many different ways which makes it difficult to trace; hence, future researchers may uncover earlier instances. Nevertheless, based on current evidence QI tentatively gives credit to Joe Doyle.
Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 1978 October 19, Lansing State Journal, Second City troupe: patient wait for stardom by Mike Hughes (Staff Writer), Quote Page C3, Column 2, Lansing, Michigan. (Newspapers_com) ↩