Scope and arrangement
The Bert Williams Jokebooks consists of two volumes of material prepared for Williams by Alex Rogers, a popular songwriter of the day and a member of the Williams and Walker Company. He and Williams collaborated on such hit songs as “I'm a Jonah Man” (1900), “I May Be Crazy, But I Ain't No Fool” (1904) and “Nobody” (1905). Rogers was also the lyricist for “Mr. Lode of Koal” (1901) and he worked with such black theatrical composers as Will Marion Cook and J. Leubrie Hill.
The first volume contains the lyrics to twenty songs, two of which “Nevermo” and “The Lee Family” were recorded by Williams on Columbia Records in 1915 and 1916, respectively.
The second volume entitled “Anecdotes, Jokes, Axioms, Proverbs, and Puns...” contains over two hundred jokes or “lies” told by Williams and written down by Rogers. These dialect stories, all of which contain a flavor of fable and black folklore, are primarily about rural or unsophisticated characters. They were first used by Williams in the summer of 1909 when he experimented in vaudeville as a solo performer. Later, while he was with the “Zeigfeld Follies” he used these stories as a sort of monologue between songs. His favorite “lie” was said to have been that of the circus lion.