I Started A Joke

Album: Idea (1968)
Charted: 6
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  • This song is about someone who has done or said something horribly wrong, which resulted in alienating everyone around him. It's a great example of lyrical songwriting, and very much a love-it-or-hate-it song. With the opening line, "I started a joke, which started the whole world crying," followed with, "I started to cry, which set the whole world laughing," the song can be heard as achingly poignant or overly sentimental, depending on your mindset.
  • The Wallflowers covered this for the 2001 movie Zoolander. It's used in a scene where Derek Zoolander is confused about winning an award that wasn't his. >>
    Suggestion credit:
    Greyham - Comox, B.C.
  • This was famously covered by Faith No More in 1995 and released as their last single after the band split up. It was issued as a bonus track on the album King For A Day Fool For A Lifetime in Argentina in 1995, and as a B-side of the UK and European Limited edition versions of the Digging The Grave CD single, which came out February 28, 1995. London Records released it as a single after Faith No More split up in 1998. The music video was made by the London Records 90 Ltd. with no creative input from the then-defunct band.

    As Faith No More bass player Billy Gould confirmed to Songfacts, the band decided to cover the song after hearing it at a karaoke bar in Guam, which used pornographic backdrops for the lyric screens. The band felt it was a bizarre melding and decided to record the song in Gould's basement.
  • Robin Gibb told The Mail On Sunday November 1, 2009: "This is a very spiritual song. The listeners have to interpret it themselves – trying to explain it would detract from the song."
  • The song wasn't released in the UK as a single. These days just about anything that's a hit in the US will get a release in the UK, especially if the artist is of British origin, but it wasn't the case in late '60s.
  • This song features in a scene during the 2010 movie The Fighter, which is about the boxer Micky Ward. In the movie, Micky's brother Dicky sings it to their mother to comfort her, which works as she begins singing the song.
  • Robin Gibb's son played this song just after his father died from kidney failure on May 20, 2012. Robin-John Gibb told The Sun: "When he passed away we went out, they took the equipment away and we came back in. I picked up my phone and found 'I Started A Joke' on YouTube and played it. I put the phone on his chest and that was the first time I broke down. I knew that song and its lyrics were perfect for that moment. That song will always have new meaning to me now."

Comments: 52

  • Dave Wyers from Niles, Oh.I've always loved this beautiful, haunting, & powerful song! Robin sings it with amazing depth & emotion! I recommend everyone should check out the incredible cover done by Puddles Pity Party!
  • Kathy from Potosi Missouri Most beautiful song I've ever heard! The depth of passion in his voice amazes me yet today..
    I feel like it symbolizes someone thinking everyone is in the same mindset as he is, but, realizes it's the total opposite, and of how cruel he must have been before this realization.. LOVE IT
  • C Pronounced (see) from MontanaGrateful for these guys sharing their gifts, this song interpits for me the recovering from an addiction, the core of addiction for me is spiritual apathy and dieing represents no longer about self- messed and the positive effects this has on others.
  • Vietnam Era Vet from MichiganI always thought it was about LBJ and the Vietnam War. The joke was the war and his decision not to run for re-election was when the world started to live.
  • Arhicks00I always thought of the song for as ode to a person who thought they were a winner, but in actuality are a loser. Basically, "They aren't laugh with you, but at you." These people thought everyone love them and that their fans were following their every word when in reality their suppose fans are laughing at them. When he says, "Till I finally died, the whole world started living" I took that as the targeted person fading from obscurity, which is when the people resume their lives until the next "joke." Perfect example is former famed celebrity Kevin Sorbo who has become a joke since Hollywood stopped calling him for more roles. He has since become a joke and has somewhat faded into obscurity.
  • Anonymous from Rivia I think it means that somebody died laughing and everyone cried. Idk that’s what I think.
  • Marilyn L Wolf from Coos Bay Oregon 97420I love the Bee Gees. I am watching them now!! They give me such joy!! True professional musicians!! Thank you!!
  • Ellenrenee from MontanaI came here to possibly find the meaning to this song. My mother passed away this past July. When planning her funeral my aunt (my mom's sister) said Mom wanted I Started a Joke played. I never remember her talking about this song, about liking it, about liking the Bee Gees.. So I'm struggling to figure out what it would have meant to her.
  • Favi from TexasTo me this song speaks of someone fully misunderstood by a bunch of narcissists. Someone who meant well, who perhaps didnt have the best of personalities, but always had the best of intentions. Someone who was very judged. Its genious how Robin wrote it. I always think of my late Father when i hear it, and how misunderstood he was by so many.
  • Honeyb from Muami, FlThere will always be something special about Robin Gibbs. It's wonderful "Started a joke..." was played at his moment of passing away, & I believe him when he says this is a spiritual song. It makes me think we take ourselves too seriously ... " the joke's on me."

    It could be from Joyce ... like here it was all the time, or it could be about a higher being.
  • Michellehrvth from Bennington My interpretation is that a song Jesus may have sung....
  • John From Baldwin from Baldwin, New YorkI find some of the comments amusing. Writing songs in the 20th century did not start in the 1960's, believe it or not. In fact, there have been some very capable writing teams and individuals prior to Lennon/McCartney and the Gibb brothers. Let me suggest the Gershwin brothers, Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, Richard Rodgers and either Lorenz hart or Oscar Hammerstein II. From the 50's I offer Boudleaux and Felice Bryant, Lieber/Stoller, Carol King and Gerry Goffin. In the country vein, Hank Williams. There are many others.
  • Curtis from Bay City, Michigan Robin Gibbs, I started a joke displays his near genius talent along with unique voice that very few people could ever sing. It’s a powerful song that touches my soul like no other. Thank you Robin Gibb you are a special human being
  • Joe Remus from Los AngelesIt's about creation: 1) A fundamental symmetry broke which released the energy that powered the big bang and created all the matter in the universe, 2) "Jesus" died which allowed "God" to forgive man for eating from the tree of knowledge" and let human kind live without fundamental sin, shame and guilt, 3) our mortality in which our parents age and pass away, but the their union created their children. (Man, this pandemic isolation is too much!).
  • Iza from Califas U are all correct on the meaning of this song , it meaning will be different to everybody . Whatever u're feeling when u hear, will determine u're interpretation of the song .
  • Doug from Waco, TexasThought it was about Adolf Hitler.
  • AnonymousI I always thought the song was about Jesus.
  • Angeline from SingaporeEgg from Australia, thank you; this bit from Robin Gibb says it all:

    "To me, that was a very spiritual song, about faith and survival in life. It wasn't a love song, it was one of the first songs we wrote about struggling to survive emotionally alone in the world."

    Gibb's explanation/song mirrors the biblical verse 1 Corinthians 1:18: "the message of the cross is foolishness to them that are perishing; but for those who are being saved, it is the power of God."

    The lyrics:"I looked at the skies running my hands over my eyes; And I fell out of bed hurting my head from the things that I said" is a reference to the folly of trusting human reason, thoughts and words.

    Looking up at the skies, we SEE but don't really SEE (the visible is but a shadow of the invisible: Plato); human reason and vision is always incomplete in time and space. If we only we could see what God can see in time and space, we might be laughing at ourselves for the things we say in jest or with such conviction that we are right.

    So for those struggling emotionally alone out there in the world, the lyrics are a spiritual encouragement to keep Faith, and not give up.

    How perfect that Gibb's son played the song on his father's chest upon leaving this world. Thank you for this beautiful song that reminds us always to be humble in the things we say and do...
  • Karen from Bay Area, CaliforniaFor me, this song is about the anguish of a person who is at odds with the rest of humanity. One's actions create the opposite of the intended effect. One's emotional experience lands opposite to others, producing unfathomable misunderstanding and isolation. Eventually one looks skyward (to the elemental and spiritual world) for visionary perspective. Finally, the misaligned aspects of the ego die, and in this ego death, the whole world comes alive.
  • Sol from BrasilHumanity started and supported all the Jokes and now the jokes materialized in the Men in power. Donald Trump is the epitome of the Jokers. This song debuted at (#66) in the United States in the week of 14 December 1968 which was 50 years ago. I guess that only misses one more six. We are all seeing who the Joke really is. Let's not forget that it was humanity who deserved this Joker. The Joker only now started to play his jokes. More jokes are coming and we won't like it.
  • Rachel from UsaI think the song means be nice with people, you don't know what others are suffering. Human beings are pretty lousy at communication, what is funny for one person is not always funny for everyone. This song was used (very effectively) at the end of the film Sympathy for Delicious. The film was about a young man in a wheelchair who suddenly discovers he is able to heal others but not himself.
  • Carey from BerlinGuys guys guys (and gals), come ON. It means nothing when a writer says he or she doesn't know what their work 'means' or was meant to mean. I'm a much-published novelist and I never claim to know what my work 'means.' This disclaimer says nothing about the work's value. And PLEASE everyone note (because many people seem to think this is a gloomy or depressed song - perhaps because of the mention of death - oo-er! Eeek! - or Robin's soulful way (always!) of singing it, but you're not paying attention: if the world starts to live when you die, this is not BAD NEWS. It's a beautiful prospect. You've got to die, but the world doesn't have to start to live... yet it will (in the song)! This is not 'about religion.' It's a beautiful spiritual statement about man's eternal resurrection; about eternity
  • Dylan from NswThis song is covered and used in the trailer for Suicide Squad.
  • Barry from Sauquoit, NyOn December 15th 1968 "I Started A Joke" by the Bee Gees entered Billboard's Hot Top 100 chart; and on February 2nd it peaked at #6 (for 1 week) and spent 11 weeks on the Top 100...
    On January 20th, 1969 it reached #1 (for 2 weeks) on the Canadian RPM Singles chart, then one month later on February 22nd it peaked at #1 (again for 2 weeks) on the Australian Kent Music Report chart...
    R.I.P. Maurice (1949 - 2003) and Robin (1949 - 2012).
  • Jinny from Brighton , United KingdomRobin didn't like to explain his lyrics as he felt it took away from what people 'got' from the songs.
  • Victor from Cádiz, SpainThis song is one of those living things whose meaning vary according to its listeners. It heavily depends on the listener's life experiences, which is great for the emotional value a song, for it's something anyone can relate to, one way or another. For me, it's about unrequited love. The joke the narrator speaks of, it's the naive illusions from the start, which grow into something sad and unwanted. After the rejection, the loved one and everybody else goes on with their lives without giving the matter any more attention, while the narrator remains heartbroken. BTW, great melody. It's a nice, nice song.
  • George from Glen Burnie, MdThis song is about a doomed relationship.
  • Bill from Drexel Hill, PaI believe the song "I Started a Joke" is about Adolph Hitler, or anyone else who has similar designs on a large scale to control and manipulate free human beings by attempting to destroy their inherent human liberty and dignity and reduce them to slaves of the state while equating them to ordinary pack animals. I guess to Adolph, it seemed like a pretty good idea at the time.
  • Jun Misugi from Bandung, IndonesiaI always hear this song when I childhood..and I want to hear this song again and again...until I will die sometimes and I was memories to my family..
  • Alika from Houston, TxI dunno perhaps songs like poems are the guides in our soul, marking a specific imaginary region where one's thoughts and heart clicked at the same time. I missed my girlfriend terribly when barely 19 I was headed to Vietnam, didn't know if I'd make it. And she wrote to me about this song. Still remember it playing in the NCO club (bar) at base after a few beers. It seemed that she was right next to me whispering the words in my ear. I Started a Joke is pretty heavy, I know it. Thanks, BeeGees, it kept the unrealness of the times be a bit more good and true.
  • Leo from Aberystwyth, United KingdomAny art has to elicit some feeling or emotion. An atmospheric song such as this will do just that, especially if it is being played in an atmospheric situation, perhaps driving home late at night, or in a quiet street overheard on somebody's tranny. In these situations the meaning of the lyrics is in the head of the listener, I think as a piece of art it is doing its job. It is a beautiful song and I hope Robin and Barry continue to sing it.
  • Brad from Gold Coast, AustraliaHi all. Denise from lakeland, FL thanks for telling me about the song 'Holiday' it is really awesome and I think under rated. I love the song 'Words' it hard to beat. Also my all time favourite by Aussie band 'Hunters & Collectors' 'Throw your arms around me' you need to source the original song from their original album as it has been re-released and re-re-released and the newer versions whilst still great lack it's soul and haunting appeal.
  • Vince from Despatch, South AfricaThis is what I make of the song...over analyzing as usual, but I live for this moments.
    Said something he heard to someone about someone, but only to find out the something was about him (the someone)
    Realizing that the gossip/joke was actually about him...
    Looking up at the heavens for help and asking, "Why?" while wiping the tears from his eyes (frustration) Knocked from his pedestal, beating himself up (remorse )for spreading the rumor/joke about himself
    He accepted the fact that he was the joke & so went on living, but is constantly reminding himself ' think before you talk about others"

    -Vince, South Africa
  • Peerless from Portland, OrHey guys/girls (us). This song answers the age old question of why we are here and how did it happen? Scientists tell us the "Big Bang" created us. This song tells us why. God wanted to know himself. So he exploded himself and started this huge joke that we know as life. There is nothing to be done, it has already been done and here we are! Enjoy it. P.
  • Five from Sai Gon, Viet NamWhen I was young this song made me had felling deeply in my heart....
    Five Saigon
  • Gary from Watford, United Kingdomregarding the bee gees they are probably joint 2nd in line with jagger/richards as the most accomplished singer/songwriters of 20th century- lennon/mcCartney being no.1
  • Denise from Lakeland, Fli also really liked the bee gees song entitled holiday. i too agree with the person who wrote that this was a very haunting song that reminded us of when we were kids. he could not of put it any better. denise esposito
  • Denise from Lakeland, Fli really like this song, and i totally agree with the person who commented that it reminded her of the trials and tribulations of jesus christ. i feel the same way. denise esposito.
  • I from Florida(not A City), FlOk, so maybe I live in a different more spiritual world, but I alway thought this song as about Jesus. It makes sense to me and that's all that matters, very profound
  • Kevin from Reading , PaI think the comment by Kirsten of N.Y. is a key to liking this song -- it's so grandoise and over the top, in a kind of adolescent way, that you can't help but get swept up in it. I love that's vague and doesn't tell you what the "joke" was that wreaked such havoc on the narrarator's life. This is great songwriting, because it allows a listener to use their imagination. Robin Gibb was the great singer in the Bee Gees early years, not Barry. His quivering vocal style is perfect for this song and their other early "over-the-top" hits like "I've Gotta Get a Message," "I Can't See Nobody," etc etc. At the end of this song, when you hits the high notes on "oh oh oh oh oh oh . . . " it really is quite stunning. It's like the ending to a Roy Orbison song. Very dramatic.
  • Judy from Evarts, KyThis song is what you make of it. It's whatever you feel while you're listening to it. There is no right or wrong. -Judy C. Kentucky
  • Kirsten from New York, NyI always thought it was perfectly geared to appeal to a highly emotional adolescent who thinks in very melodramatic terms, that everything s/he does has great meaning and impact. "I start a joke that made the *whole world* cry! I am so powerful and evil I'll never forgive myself!" The line "I finally died, which started the whole world living" actually makes me laugh out loud.

    OTOH, Robin's voice is stunning and full of emotion. It's a beautiful sounding song.
  • Marty from San Francisco, CaWhen this song was first released, many people rumored that it was about "Hitler". Made sense!
  • Joe from Pittsburgh, PaThe song was supposed to have been about an incident in which a Pennsylvania official claimed that several college students, high on LSD, were blinded after lying in a meadow and staring at the sun. After the story gained notoriety around the world, and reporters were unsuccessful in tracking down the source, the hospital, or the students involved, the official admitted to concocting the entire story and was forced to resign.
  • Farrah from Elon, NcI really like this song. I know some people think this is dumb. But believe you me, there are songs out there that are far more stupid than this one could ever be.
  • Egg from -, Australia ***QUOTE***
    ROBIN GIBB: The idea for the song came when I was sitting on a plane over Germany, and I heard a melody in the droning of the engine. As soon as I got on the ground that night I completed the song with Barry and Maurice. To me, that was a very spiritual song, about faith and survival in life. It wasn't a love song, it was one of the first songs we wrote about struggling to survive emotionally alone in the world.
  • Mike from Jersey City, Nj"I started a joke," and "Holiday" are two very haunting songs despite lyrics that are somewhat vague. The mood of sadness comes across in both songs and the mournful singing suggests fleeting
    remembrances of things that delighted us as kids and maybe embarrassed us as adults. Mike S. Chicago
  • Glen from Kent, NeLee's right - to an extent. Robin said he was inspired by the sound of the jet engines on the plane. The melody is actually based around the sound of the plane taking off.
  • Christopher from Tucson, Azits funny to watch people post comments on peoples music tell what the song is about. Being a songwriter its all subjective and relative to the artist. its more fun to hear people say what the song is about even though they didnt write it. music is art. its all relative
  • Luke from Manchester, EnglandCovered to a great degree by Faith No More and the video is very strange
  • Fyodor from Denver, CoI always thought it was about being misunderstood by and out of step with others. The pathetic side of alienation.
  • Lee from BournemouthI once saw an interview with Robin, (who wrote this song), and he said that it doesn't really have a meaning. People speculate it's about religion etc, but he said it came into his head whilst on a plane. So while what the above facts say are true in that they explain the lyrics, the scenario quoted is not what Robin necessarily had in mind.
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