America’s 10 Funniest Jokes

Updated: Dec. 07, 2023

In this classic from our June 2009 magazine, eight comedy legends gather for a chaotic vote on the funniest jokes of all time

It’s mayhem. Amid the clamor of pickle trays and pastrami-bearing waiters, eight old friends have gathered for their biweekly lunch. They’re all talking over one another, and no one’s listening. But somehow they can hear Arthur Hiller regaling Sid Caesar with a story about Billy Wilder. Gary Owens, Rocky Kalish and Matty Simmons croon ear-wrenching, plate-shattering harmony on the old Benny Goodman standard “Undecided.” Hal Kanter and Monty Hall trade stories about working with Jimmy Stewart, both favorable and not (“Jimmy was a brigadier general during World War II, and he never let you forget it,” says Kanter).

Any silence is filled by a Gatling gun salvo of one-liners from John Rappaport: “Hear the one about the Israeli newspaper reporter who yelled to his editor, ‘Hold the back page!’?”

These eight comedy legends, ranging in age from their 60s to their 90s—and with about 422 years of comedy under their collective belt—meet every other week to kibitz, eat and reminisce. But mostly, they’re there to exercise their comedy chops by cracking wise at every opportunity.

It’s this group that Reader’s Digest has asked to choose America’s all-time best jokes. The magazine’s editors have winnowed down the thousands of submissions our readers sent in. Our judges’ job is to pick 10 from that collection. That is, if I can get them to concentrate on the jokes.

“Excuse me, excuse me!” I yell over the din. I begin handing out sheets of paper containing the gags. “Can we start with the jokes?”

Rappaport begins: “A guy goes to his doctor’s office and says, ‘Give it to me straight. I know I’m sick. How long do I have?’ The doctor says, ‘Ten …’
‘Ten what?’ asks the patient. ‘Years? Months?’ ‘Nine … eight …’”

“That’s a good joke. I vote for that one,” says Hiller.
“It is a good joke, but it’s not on our list,” I say.

Rappaport peruses the list and offers to read the monk joke, which pits him against Hall, who also wants to read the monk joke. Instead of either reading the monk joke, they start telling their own favorite monk jokes. “Maybe we can read a joke from the list?” I suggest over the laughter.

Kalish taps a spoon against a glass of Dr. Brown’s diet cream soda. “Point of order!” he shouts. That’s what the guys yell when they want everyone’s attention. It doesn’t always work, but that’s what they yell. “I’m going to read one,” he says. “And remember, gentlemen, Reader’s Digest is picking up the tab today, so you know what that means: Eat as much as you want.”

Joke #1: No hiding the evidence

A man, shocked by how his buddy is dressed, asks him, “How long have you been wearing that bra?” The friend replies, “Ever since my wife found it in the glove compartment.”
—Submitted by Braeden Silvermist

They all laugh, except Kanter, who sneers, “It’s so old.”
“It doesn’t matter if it’s old or not,” I say. “The point is, is it funny?”

No one’s listening, because the joke genie has been let out of the bottle, and the gags (none from our list) start flying.

Simmons begins: “A grandmother is watching her grandchild playing on the beach when a huge wave comes and takes him out to sea.” Caesar leans in to hear. He knows what’s coming. They all do—it’s their favorite joke from their stockpile of gags. “She pleads, ‘Please, God, save my only grandson. I beg of you, bring him back.’ With that, a big wave washes the boy back onto the beach, good as new. The grandmother looks up to heaven and says, ‘He had a hat!’”

“Very funny, but I want to give you a line read,” says Rappaport. “It should be ‘He had a hat.’”
“No, no, no,” says Kanter. “It’s ‘He had a hat.’”
“‘He had a hat,’” insists Rappaport.
“Then she’s too angry,” Kanter counters. “She’s not angry—she just wants the damn hat back.”

“Who’d like to read the next joke?”
“‘He had a hat?’” Simmons tries. Owens finally launches into the next gag on the list, drawing it out for all its comic worth.

Joke #2: The dumb-blonde joke

A ventriloquist is performing with his dummy on his lap. He’s telling a dumb-blonde joke when a young platinum-haired beauty jumps to her feet.
“What gives you the right to stereotype blondes that way?” she demands. “What does hair color have to do with my worth as a human being?”
Flustered, the ventriloquist begins to stammer out an apology.
“You keep out of this!” she yells. “I’m talking to that little jerk on your knee!”

—Submitted by Nancy Gomes

“Great,” I say. “Who’d like to tell—”

“You know, that reminds me of a true story,” says Owens. “It was in the ’50s. The ventriloquist Rickie Layne and his dummy, Velvel, were onstage at the Copacabana. In the front row were some gangsters. Velvel starts insulting them. ‘Hey, it looks like you slept in your clothes,’ he says. ‘Don’t you make any money? Is that the best suit you can buy?’ With each putdown, the mobsters are getting angrier and angrier. Suddenly, the owner of the nightclub, Jules Podell, a real tough guy, jumps onstage. He grabs the dummy and punches him so hard, his head rolls off. Podell then points at Velvel’s head lying on the stage and says, ‘One more joke like that and I’ll kill you!’”

“True story,” says Kalish, corroborating it between guffaws.
“Can we read another joke?” I ask.

“Anybody hear of a guy named Evil Eye Finkel?” says Kalish. In the ’30s, Evil Eye’s job was to go to boxing matches and fix some boxer with the evil eye in hopes of jinxing him.

The contest has now been hijacked by tales of all the Evil Eyes the guys have known. That’s when I remind everyone that Reader’s Digest will pick up the lunch tab only if they actually judge the gags. The men swallow their pickles, pick up their pens and take their jobs quite seriously, often bickering over votes cast.

“You actually like that one?” Kanter asks Simmons after the latter voices approval of the bra joke. Simmons, in turn, points out that Kanter had little company when he voted for an ill-fated gassy-granny joke.

Here, now, the rest of the 10 best jokes in America (in no particular order), as decided by our judges:

Joke #3: Heavenly looks

In surgery for a heart attack, a middle-aged woman has a vision of God by her bedside. “Will I die?” she asks.
God says, “No. You have 30 more years to live.”
With 30 years to look forward to, she decides to make the best of it. So since she’s in the hospital, she gets breast implants, liposuction, a tummy tuck, hair transplants and collagen injections in her lips. She looks great!
The day she’s discharged, she exits the hospital with a swagger, crosses the street and is immediately hit by an ambulance and killed.
Up in heaven, she sees God. “You said I had 30 more years to live,” she complains.
“That’s true,” says God.
“So what happened?”
God shrugs. “I didn’t recognize you.”

—Submitted by Hank Chawansky

Joke #4: A grumpy monk

Every 10 years, the monks in the monastery are allowed to break their vow of silence to speak two words. Ten years go by and it’s one monk’s first chance. He thinks for a second before saying, “Food bad.”
Ten years later, he says, “Bed hard.”
It’s the big day, a decade later. He gives the head monk a long stare and says, “I quit.”
“I’m not surprised,” the head monk says. “You’ve been complaining ever since you got here.”

—Submitted by Alan Lynch

Joke #5: The talking dog

A guy spots a sign outside a house that reads “Talking Dog for Sale.” Intrigued, he walks in.
“So what have you done with your life?” he asks the dog.
“I’ve led a very full life,” says the dog. “I lived in the Alps rescuing avalanche victims. Then I served my country in Iraq. And now I spend my days reading to the residents of a retirement home.”
The guy is flabbergasted. He asks the dog’s owner, “Why on earth would you want to get rid of an incredible dog like that?”
The owner says, “Because he’s a liar! He never did any of that!”

—Submitted by Harry Nelson

Joke #6: Hunting accident

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He’s not breathing, and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls 911.
“I think my friend is dead!” he yells. “What can I do?”
The operator says, “Calm down. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”
There’s a silence, then a shot. Back on the phone, the guy says, “Okay, now what?”

—Submitted by Gerald Doka

Joke #7: Turtle gets mugged

A turtle is crossing the road when he’s mugged by two snails. When the police show up, they ask him what happened. The shaken turtle replies, “I don’t know. It all happened so fast.”
—Submitted by Debby Carter

Joke #8: Spooky music

A man is walking in a graveyard when he hears the Third Symphony played backward. When it’s over, the Second Symphony starts playing, also backward, and then the First. “What’s going on?” he asks a cemetery worker.
“It’s Beethoven,” says the worker. “He’s decomposing.”

—Submitted by Jeremy Hone

Joke #9: A priest, a minister and a rabbi …

A priest, a minister and a rabbi want to see who’s best at his job. So they each go into the woods, find a bear and attempt to convert it. Later they get together. The priest begins: “When I found the bear, I read to him from the Catechism and sprinkled him with holy water. Next week is his First Communion.”
“I found a bear by the stream,” says the minister, “and preached God’s holy word. The bear was so mesmerized that he let me baptize him.”
They both look down at the rabbi, who is lying on a gurney in a body cast. “Looking back,” he says, “maybe I shouldn’t have started with the circumcision.”

—Submitted by Mitchell Hauser

Joke #10: Canine concerns

A poodle and a collie are walking together when the poodle suddenly unloads on his friend. “My life is a mess,” he says. “My owner is mean, my girlfriend ran away with a schnauzer and I’m as jittery as a cat.”
“Why don’t you go see a psychiatrist?” suggests the collie.
“I can’t,” says the poodle. “I’m not allowed on the couch.”

—Submitted by L.B. Weinstein

Reader's Digest
Originally Published in Reader's Digest