Being very fond of words and even more fond of them when they’re paired in humorous combinations, I Googled the term funniest graffiti the other day. Try it yourself.
There are some funny people out there. Ingenious. The only disappointing thing is that these witty souls must remain anonymous. Take Banksy, for example, the English-based graffiti artist. His witty, dark humor has made him famous, but the nature of his art guarantees that his identity remains a secret. Oh well.
The history of graffiti goes back a long way. All the way back to ancient Egypt. Of course, back then, graffiti artists didn’t have spray paint or markers to do their subversive deeds. They often scratched their words and pictures into the solid rock on walls or monuments. And the ancient Egyptians could be quite subversive or funny. Or both. You could, for instance, see Cleopatra’s name on a wall and if you scratched two serpents, a scarab and a falcon below it, you would have citizens in Alexandria snickering for weeks.*
The Romans tended to use their graffiti to express thoughts about love or spout political rhetoric, but in Vesuvius, there survives an inscription containing the address of a woman by the name of Novellia Primigenia of Nuceria, a prostitute of great beauty and whose services were in great demand. Okay, not exactly Banksy, but it’s a start. But also found in the buried city was an inscription of a penis, accompanied by the words: mansueta tene (“handle with care”). Things are looking up.
I’m not advocating people going around spray painting on building walls or using a marker in public bathrooms. I lived in New York City in the 1980s and the city—and especially subway cars—were covered in spray paint. It wasn’t pretty. If you have something to say, there’s always Twitter or Tumblr. But if you’re going to be scrawling something on a wall—and people have been doing it for a long, long time—then at least be clever or funny.
*If you read hieroglyphics, this joke loses a little in the translation.