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 May 22, 2017
“The job requires me to get a potato clock” (get up at eight o’clock)

An old joke has a person seek to purchase a “potato clock” because he or she was told to “get up at eight o’clock.” The mondegreen has been cited in print since at least 1842.

Since at least the 1990s, the “potato clock” joke has been tied to an employment situation, where a boss tells a worker to “get up at eight o’clock” and the worker seeks to get a “potato clock.”


14 April 1842, The Daily Pennsylvanian (Philadelphia, PA), pg. 1, col. 7:
AN AWFUL CONUNDRUM.—Why, says a late London pundit, is an early riser like a man who purchases a vegetable time piece? D’ye give it up? ‘Cause he gets up at eight o’clock. (’Cause he gets a potato clock! Oh! shame ! shame!)

20 May 1842, Peoria Register and North-western Gazetteer (Peoria, IL), pg. 4, col. 5:
SHORTS.
When does a man have a vegetable time piece?
When he gets a potato clock (gets up at eight o’clock.)

Google Books
15 February 1867, The Galaxy (New York, NY), pg. 422:
When may a man be said to have a vegetable time-piece? When he gets a potato clock (gets up at eight o’clock).

Google Books
The Life, Letters, and Labours of Francis Galton,
Volume 3, Part 1

By Karl Pearson
Cambrdge, UK: Cambridge University press
1930
Pg. 188:
Riddle. If a man wants to obtain a vegetable time piece at what hour should he rise?
Answer. He must get “ up at eight o’clock “ (must get a potato clock).

Google Books
A Treasury of Humor, and Toastmaster’s Handbook
By Marjorie Barrows
Chicago, IL: Spencer Press
1955
Pg. 386:
“Penge,” the lady said, “Mr. Wooley is very fond of jokes. Do tell him yours about the potato clock.”

“Certainly!” he cried. “Delighted, I’m sure. Mr. Wooley, did you ever see a potato clock? What?”

I said I hadn’t.

“No? Well, I got up at eight o’clock this morning!”

Google Groups: mpc.lists.misc.giggles
JOKE-CLEAN: Don’t Ask
RAINYBOW
1/22/98
Read this one close:

A man went into a department store and asked an assistant, “Do you sell potato clocks?”

“Potato clocks, sir? I’m not sure what you mean,” replied the assistant.

“Well,” came the explanation, “I’m always being late for work, and my boss said I would get there before nine if I got a potato clock ....”

Google Groups: uk.misc
The potato clock joke
SomeBlokeCalledRapunzelSyndrome
9/27/02
Bloke goes into a jewellers, says “I’m looking for a potato clock, have you got one?”
“No, sir, never heard of such a thing”
Tries another jewellers, “Never heard of it, sorry” etc [let’s not drag this out, it’s not that funny]
Finally he finds a slightly cleverer assistant who says:
“I’m not sure what that is, what do you want it _for_?”
“Well, I’ve got this new job, and when I told my mother I had to start at 9, she said if you need to be in work at 9 you’ll have to get a potato clock”

a potato
up at eight o’

oh never mind

Google Books
Penguin Pocket Jokes
By David Pickering
London, UK: Penguin Books
2006
Pg. ?:
A man goes into a shop and asks a sales assistant, ‘Do you sell potato clocks?’ ‘Potato clocks?’ replies the assistant. ‘I’m not sure what you mean.’ ‘It’s my boss,’ explains the man.’He keeps telling me I’m always late for work at nine o’clock, but there wouldn’t be a problem if I got a potato clock.’

Google Books
The Mammoth Book of One-Liners
Edited by Geoff Tibballs
London, UK: Constable & Robinson Ltd
2012
Pg. ?:
Why did the Irishman try to buy a potato clock? “Because I start my new job at nine tomorrow, and so my wife said: ‘You’d better get a potato clock.’”

Reddit—Jokes
Dad: Where can I get a potato clock?
submitted May 22, 2017 by ExpFilm_Student
Son: Why a potato clock?!?
Dad: I’ve got a new job and my boss said I need to get-a-potato-clock

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityTime/Weather • Monday, May 22, 2017 • Permalink