Viola jokes are jokes that are directed towards violas and viola players, thought to have originated in the 18th century. Violas at the time were mainly used for relatively easy, accompanimental parts, and not as solo instruments; violists were generally low-paid and of lower social standing.
A story from Italy in the early 1700s is thought to be the origin of many viola jokes:
The violinist Francesco Geminiani arrived in London in 1714, one of the many expatriate musicians who settled in England in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries ... As a young man Geminiani was appointed head of the orchestra in Naples, where according to English music historian Charles Burney he was "so wild and unsteady a timist, that instead of regulating and conducting the band, he threw it into confusion", and was demoted to playing the viola.
Viola jokes take many different forms, some only understandable by musicians and people acquainted with musical terms, others requiring no specialist musical knowledge. Some jokes make fun of the viola itself while others make fun of violists, while some jokes are directed in the opposite direction: jokes about musicians who tell viola jokes.
- Cottrell, Stephen (2004). Professional Music-making in London: Ethnography and Experience. Ashgate Publishing. pp. 144–146. ISBN 0754608891.
- Marissen, Michael (1999). The Social and Religious Designs of J. S. Bach's Brandenburg Concertos. Princeton University Press. p. 61. ISBN 1400821657. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
- Johnstone, David. Grand Encyclopedia of Viola Jokes (PDF). p. 59. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2014-08-24. Retrieved 2014-08-01.
- Carl Rahkonen (Winter 2000). "No Laughing Matter: The Viola Joke Cycle as Musicians' Folklore". Western Folklore. Western States Folklore Society. 59 (1): 49–63. doi:10.2307/1500468. JSTOR 1500468.