A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006.

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Entry from March 02, 2009
“Waiter! There’s a fly in my soup!”

"Waiter! There’s a fly in my soup!” is an old joke, with many punchlines. The joke is first cited in 1872 and was frequently told in the 1880s. In the late 1888s, the slang phrase “in the soup” was briefly added as a punchline.

In 1960, the question was phrased: “Waiter! What’s this fly doing in my soup?” The waiter’s answer was “swimming” or “the backstroke.” This joke is sometimes attributed to a Lindy’s waiter at that classic New York City restaurant, but the joke was probably invented by a New York comedian who ate at Lindy’s.


YouTube
Spike Milligan Fly in My Soup

Making of America
13 August 1872, Appletons’ Journal, pg. 140, col. 1:
Guest — “How comes this dead fly in my soup?”
Waiter — “In fact, sir, I have no positive idea how the poor thing came to its death. Perhaps it had not taken any food for a long time, dashed upon the soup, ate too much of it, and contracted an inflammation of the stomach that brought on death. The fly must have a very weak constitution, for when I served the soup it was dancing merrily on the surface. Perhaps — and the idea presents itself only at this moment — it endeavored to swallow too large a piece of vegetable; this, remaining fast in his throat, caused a choking in the windpipe. This is the only reason I could give for the death of this insect.”
(Also printed in the April 12, 1872 Oregonian—ed.)

18 June 1881, Fort Wayne (IN) Daily Gazette, pg. 6, col. 1:
“Here’s a fly in my soup, waiter.” “Yes, sir; very sorry, sir, but you can throw away the fly and eat the soup, can’t you?” “Of course, I can; you don’t expect me to throw away the soup and eat the fly, did you?”

17 October 1885, Newport (RI) Mercury, pg. 7, col. 5:
A Mere Suggestion.
“Look here, waiter, quick,” called out a gentleman in an Austin restaurant.
“What is it, sir?”
“Here is a dead fly in my soup.”
“So I see. It seems to be quite dead.”
“Well, by Thunder, I want you to understand that I consider it an outrage.”
“I am sorry, sir, but if you are opposed to eating dead animals, you should patronize one of the vegetarian restaurants.”—Texas Siftings.

28 November 1886, Chicago (IL) Daily Tribune, pg. 7:
Jakey — “Fader, dere’s a fly in dor soup.”
Mr. Cohn — “Vell, eat all but der fly before you show it to der waiter; den you can get some more.”

17 February 1887, Life, pg. 100:
Customer (in restaurant): “Waiter, isn’t it strange that I should find several flies in my soup?”
Waiter (somewhat amazed): “It is strange at this season of the year.” —Harper’s Bazaar.

13 December 1888, Life, pg. 336:
Customer (to waiter): I say, waiter, confound you, there’s a fly in this soup!
Waiter (amazed): Well, I do decla’, ef it yain’t surprisin’! Eberything seems to be gittin’ in de soup nowadays.
(This and the following joke play upon the then-popular phrase “in the soup”—ed.)

2 March 1890, Spirit Lake (Iowa) Beacon, pg. 2, col. 5:
Too particular.
“Here, waiter! There’s a fly in this soup.”
“Wall, Lord ‘a’ massy, mistah—whad do you want? A Presidential candidate?—Puck.

17 April 1894, Logansport (IN) Reporter, pg. 2, col. 4:
A Troublesome Insect.
Diner—I say, waiter, there’s a fly in this soup.
Waiter—Glad to know it, sah. We’se been tryin’ to kill dat are fly fo’ seben weeks.—Judge.

5 December 1907, Massillon (OH) Evening Independent, pg. 6:
Explained Away.
He was staring fixedly at his soup, or, rather, at a foreign body which floated upon the surface thereof. Presently he drew forth a pocket magnifying glass and examined the thing still more critically.

“Waiter,” he shouted, “what does this mean? Here’s a fly in my soup!”

The waiter bent obsequiously forward and examined the derelict which floated on that greasy ocean.

“Bless your heart, sir,” he exclaimed, “that ain’t no fly! It’s only a bit of dirt!”

And yet that diner left the restaurant, another striking example of sour unreasonableness.

7 February 1911, Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Evening Gazette, pg. 4, col. 4:
“Here, waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.”
“Serves the brute right. He’s been buzin’ round here all mornin’.”—Life.

25 June 1911, Philadelphia (PA) Inquirer, pg. 6:
POSITIVELY AERIAL.
“Waiter!”
The disgusted cry rang through the restaurant and brought the sleepy waiter to his feet.
“Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!”
The sleepy waiter approached, rubbed his eyes, bent his head over the steaming plate, made a minute investigation of its contents, and declared:
“Yes, sir. I’m afraid there is.”
“Well, well,” said the diner angrily, “don’t stand there staring! Remove it at once!”
“Remove it, sir?” said the sleepy waiter, rubbing his forehead. “The fly, sir?”
“No, you idiot!” roared the diner. “Remove the soup!”
“Oh, yes sir! Certainly, sir!” answered the sleepy waiter. “And shall I leave the fly, sir?”

5 February 1919, Ruthven (Iowa) Free Press, pg. 3, col. 1:
JOKE ON TY COBB
Lots of professional baseball players pride themselves on their gift of repartee, but out on the road even the smartest of them are beaten at that sort of game.

Ty Cobb, king of players in the business, smart as he is, was tripped up by an ordinary waiter.

In a small New York hotel one day Ty loudly called the attention of a waiter to a fly in his soup.

“Very true, my dear Mr. Cobb,” said the waiter, “but why should you worry when there is not a chance in the world of your catching it?”

18 August 1928, Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City, UT), pg. 6, col. 6:
“I say, waiter, there’s a fly in my soup!”
“Surely not, sir; maybe it’s one of those vitamin bees you read so much about.”—Iowa Frivol.

Google Books
To Make Better Provision for the Government of the Military and Naval Forces of the United States by the Suppression of Attempts to Incite the Members Thereof to Disobedience
By Committee on Military Affairs
Published by , 1935
Pg. 86:
THE ENLISTED WORKER—FOR ENLISTED MEN BY ENLISTED MEN
[Weekly—May 27, 1933]
SAILOR. What’s that fly doing in my soup?
COOKIE. That’s no fly. That’s the Roosevelt daily meat ration.

31 August 1937, Lowell (MA) Sun, “All in a Day” by Mark Hellinger, pg. 6, col. 5:
Variation
As soon as he entered the restaurant, writes Wilbur Hatch, the chronic grumbler began to complain. When the soup reached him, he gave out the usual yell.

“Hey, waiter,” he cried, “there’s a fly in my soup.”

But the waiter was fast on the trigger.

“Grab your fork,” he advised. “Maybe a trout will come to the surface!”

9 March 1960, Capital Times (Madison, WI), pg. 29, col. 3:
FUN TIME
The Chuckle Box
Customer:
What’s this fly doing in my soup?
Waiter: I should say it’s swimming, sir.

20 July 1960, Berkshire (MA) Eagle, pg. 26, col. 7:
Diner: What’s that fly doing in my soup?
Waiter: The backstroke, I think.

4 August 1960, National Road Traveler (Cambridge City, IN), pg. 6, col. 3:
Irritated patron in restaurant: What is this fly doing in my soup?
Waiter, peering closely into the soup bowl: The breaststroke, sir!

28 January 1961, Capital Times, pg. 23, col. 3:
FUN TIME
The Chuckle Box
Customer:
Waiter, there’s a fly in my soup.
Waiter: That’s all right. We won’t charge you for it.

Google News Archive
7 January 1962, St. Petersburg (FL) Times, “My Favorite Jokes” by Herkie Styles (Herman Silverman), Parade magazine, pg. 18:
There was this man in a restaurant and he said to the waiter: “What’s this fly doing in my soup? And the waiter replied, “The backstroke.”

22 September 1969, Dallas (TX) Morning News, “It happened Last Night” by Earl Wilson, section A, pg. 19:
Tales of Lindy’s Waiters Revived
NEW YORK—WIth the closing of famous Lindy’s Restaurant for at least a month’s renovation before reopening as part of Longchamps, there’s be much reminiscing about the celebrated Lindy’s waiters who were heroes (or villains) of the Broadway stories beginning “What’s that fly doing in my soup?” ending with “I think it’s the backstroke.”

31 March 1975, New York (NY) Times, “About New York: East Side, West Side” by John Corry, pg. 37:
“This guy went into a restaurant and said, ‘Waiter, what s this fly doing in my soup?’ “‘I don’t know; the waiter said, `the backstroke, I think.’”

A Perfect World
Thursday, October 02, 2008
Waiter, what’s this fly doing in my soup?
Using silliness as a diversion from nonsense. No that is not the punchline. One of my cartoon writing techniques is to play with a cliche or very old joke. I’ve been having fun with the fly in the soup joke.

Standard joke:
Waiter, what’s this fly doing in my soup?
The backstroke.

Variations:
Waiter, what’s this fly doing on my soup bowl?
He’s the lifeguard.

Waiter, what’s this fly doing in my soup?
That’s stew not soup.

Circle of Food
Waiter, There’s a Fly in My Soup
Published by Karyn Zoldan February 13th, 2009 in Food Organizations, Food Safety, Food for Thought.
According to this loss-of-appetite provoking article in the New York Times, that would not be cause for alarm especially using the most recent FDA standards.

Here’s the shocker: The FDA actually “condones” a small percentage of bugs, rodents, mold, and maggots in the food supply.

Yech. Gross.

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New York CityFood/Drink • (0) Comments • Monday, March 02, 2009 • Permalink