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 November 11, 2012
“Know thyself; if you need help, call the CIA”

"Know thyself” is an ancient Greek proverb that was inscribed in the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. “Know thyself; if you need help, call the CIA/FBI” is a humorous one-line saying meaning that one can always find out about one’s self by checking the files at the Central Intelligence Agency or the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

“Know yourself. If your need help, call the FBI” is from Deteriorata (a parody of the poem “Desiderata") that was written by Tony Hendra for the album National Lampoon Radio Dinner (1972). The comedian Mort Sahl was credited in a 2002 book, but it’s unlikely that he made the joke without being credited for it before this date. “Know thyself. If you need help, call the CIA” has been cited in print since at least 1989.

[This entry was prepared with the research assistance of Andrew Milner, as in the 2014 Twitter message below.]


Wikipedia: Know thyself
The Ancient Greek aphorism “Know thyself” was inscribed in the pronaos (forecourt) of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi according to the Greek periegetic (travelogue) writer Pausanias (10.24.1).

The maxim, or aphorism, “know thyself” has had a variety of meanings attributed to it in literature. The Suda, a tenth century encyclopedia of Greek knowledge, says: “the proverb is applied to those whose boasts exceed what they are,” and that “know thyself” is a warning to pay no attention to the opinion of the multitude.

Wikipedia: Deteriorata
Deteriorata is a parody of Les Crane’s 1971 spoken word recording of Desiderata, the early 20th century poem by Max Ehrmann. (Desiderata is Latin for “things to be desired”; the word deteriorata is a portmanteau of “desiderata” and the verb to deteriorate.) The parody was written by Tony Hendra for National Lampoon, and was recorded as part of the National Lampoon Radio Dinner album, released in 1972. Voiceover talent Norman Rose read the “poem” and Melissa Manchester was a background singer on the chorus section of the song. Christopher Guest wrote the music.

Joke-Archives.com
Deteriorata
(...)
Remember the Pueblo. Strive at all times to bend, fold, spindle, and mutilate. Know yourself. If you need help, call the FBI.

Google Groups: rec.music.misc
Bruce Hansen
11/11/89
(...)
|Bruce Hansen iconsys!ohs!bhan |
|Know thyself.  If you need help, call the C.I.A. 

Google Groups: news.newusers.questions
The Chipmunk
3/9/92
(...)
Know thyself.  If you need help, call the C.I.A.

Google Groups: alt.quotations

2/17/93
(...)
Know Thyself.  If you need help, call the FBI.

Google Groups: rec.music.misc
Mike Chace
9/10/94
(...)
Know thyself.  If you need help, call the C.I.A.

Google Books
Modems for Dummies
By Tina Rathbone
Foster City, CA: IDG Books Worldwide
1996
Pg. 5:
Know thyself. If you need help, call the C.I.A.

Linux Forum
Eric E. Bard
Sun, 08 Jun 1997 02:43:31 GMT
(...)
Know thyself.  If you need help, call the C.I.A.

Google Books
Do Unto Others ... Then Run:
A Little Book of Twisted Proverbs

By Gerd De Ley
Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Pub.
2002
Pg. ?:
Know thyself. If you need help, call the CIA.
MORT SAHL

1 February 2004, Plainview (TX) Daily Herald, “Consider that two wrongs don’t make a right but that three do”:
Know thyself. If you need help, call the FBI.

tongueincheek
monday, march 06, 2006
one liners 2 make u smile...
(...)
Know thyself. If you need help, call the C.I.A.

YouTube
National Lampoon - Deteriorata (National Lampoon Radio Dinner (1972))
ArkivArkiv
Uploaded on Jun 30, 2011
National Lampoon Radio Dinner is a comedy album from National Lampoon that was first released in 1972. The humor on the album was very much steeped in the pop culture of the era and includes such subjects as game shows ("Catch It and You Keep"), the 1972 presidential election ("Profiles in Chrome” - where the U.S polictial party Democrats nominate a Pontiac GTO to run for office while then U.S president Richard Nixon counters by transforming into a car himself) and popular music parodies such as “Deteriorata” - a parody of Les Crane’s “Desiderata” - and a Joan Baez protest song parody “Pull the Tregros").

TwitLonger
Andrew Milner @Andrew_Milner
17th February 2014 from TwitLonger
@barrypopik The phrase “Know thyself; if you need help, call the CIA” originated with “Deteriorata,” the National Lampoon print (and later record) spoof of “Desiderata” from 1972
Know yourself. If you need help, call the FBI.
http://www.joke-archives.com/poetry/deteriorata.html

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityGovernment/Law/Politics/Military • Sunday, November 11, 2012 • Permalink