After much careful scrutiny, we finally found the joke that received higher ratings than any other gag. Here it is:
Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, "My friend is dead! What can I do?". The operator says "Calm down. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says "OK, now what?"
This joke was submitted by Gurpal Gosall, a 31 year old psychiatrist from Manchester in the UK. He told LaughLab:
"I like the joke as it makes people feel better, because it reminds them that there is always someone out there who is doing something more stupid than themselves."
Here is a picture of Gurpal in front of a large poster containing his joke.
The joke is interesting because it works across many different countries, appeals to men and women, and young and old alike. Many of the jokes submitted received higher ratings from certain groups of people, but this one had real universal appeal.
Also, we find jokes funny for lots of different reasons – they sometimes make us feel superior to others, reduce the emotional impact of anxiety-provoking events, or surprise us because of some kind of incongruity. The hunters joke contains all three elements – we feel superior to the stupid hunter, realise the incongruity of him misunderstanding the operator and the joke helps us to laugh about our concerns about our own mortality.
In second place The joke that came second was submitted by Geoff Anandappa, from Blackpool in Britain:
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson were going camping. They pitched their tent under the stars and went to sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night Holmes woke Watson up and said: “Watson, look up at the stars, and tell me what you see.”
Watson replied: “I see millions and millions of stars.”
Holmes said: “and what do you deduce from that?”
Watson replied: “Well, if there are millions of stars, and if even a few of those have planets, it’s quite likely there are some planets like earth out there. And if there are a few planets like earth out there, there might also be life.”
And Holmes said: “Watson, you idiot, it means that somebody stole our tent.”
When we told Geoff that he had been pipped to the post by the hunters joke, he was gracious in defeat, noting: ‘I can't believe I got knocked out in the final round! I could've been a contender... I want a re-match, and this time I'm going to fight dirty. Did you hear the one about the actress and the bishop?’.
Humour across the globe
We asked everyone participating in LaughLab to tell us which country they were from. We analysed the data from the ten countries that rated the highest number of jokes. The following ‘league table’ lists the countries in the order of how funny they found the jokes:
The Republic of Ireland
Least funny Fascinating differences also emerged between nations in terms of the jokes they found funny. People from The Republic of Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand expressed a strong preference for jokes involving word plays, such as:
Patient: “Doctor, I've got a strawberry stuck up my bum.”
Doctor: “I've got some cream for that.
Americans and Canadians much preferred gags where there was a sense of superiority – either because a person looked stupid, or was made to look stupid by another person, such as:
Texan: “Where are you from?”
Harvard grad: “I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with prepositions.”
Texan: “Okay – where are you from, jackass?”
Finally, many European countries, such as France, Denmark and Belgium, liked jokes that were somewhat surreal, such as:
An Alsatian went to a telegram office, took out a blank form and wrote:
“Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof.”
The clerk examined the paper and politely told the dog: “There are only nine words here. You could send another ‘Woof’ for the same price.”
“But,” the dog replied, “that would make no sense at all.”
These European countries also enjoyed jokes that involved making light of topics that often make us feel anxious, such as death, illness, and marriage. For example:
A patient says: “Doctor, last night I made a Freudian slip, I was having dinner with my mother-in-law and wanted to say: “Could you please pass the butter.” But instead I said: “You silly cow, you have completely ruined my life”.”
Interestingly, Germany was the exception. Germans did not express a strong preference for any type of joke - this may well explain why they came first in our league table of funniness – they do not have any strong preferences and so tend to find a wide spectrum of jokes funny. (I found that interesting....guess why)
It's all about timing Our computers recorded the time that each person rated the jokes in LaughLab. At the end of the experiment, we looked at the data and examined how the degree to which they found jokes funny changed over a the course of the day.
P eople found the jokes funniest at 6.03 in the evening., and least funny at 1.30 in the morning.
We also recorded the date that each person visited LaughLab. There were huge differences in how funny people found jokes at different times during the month. People found them funniest on the 15th of the month, and less funny towards the end or start of the month.
So, if you want to make people laugh, tell them jokes on the 15th of the month, at 6.03 in the evening.
Sigmund Freud was one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century.
His basic idea was that we all have sexual and aggressive thoughts, but that society does not allow us to express these ideas openly. As a result, they become repressed deep into our unconscious and only emerge via the odd slip of the tongue (the ‘Freudian slip’), in dreams and certain forms of psychotherapy.
But Freud was also fascinated by jokes and humour. He believed that they represented another way in which people could release their pent-up thoughts in a socially acceptable way. Thoughts about death, sex, marriage, authority figures, certain bodily functions – anything, in fact, that it is socially unacceptable to say with a straight face.
So, to Freud, humour provides a kind of relief – a way of coping with the problems in our lives, or issues that we are embarrassed or reluctant to confront.
Although many of the jokes submitted to LaughLab fit with Freud’s ideas, they didn’t make it through our vetting procedure because they weren’t suitable for family viewing.
However, here are some examples that fit the theory and did get the green light.
A woman told her friend: “For eighteen years my husband and I were the happiest people in the world! Then we met.”
A newly ordained priest is nervous about hearing confessions and asks an older priest to observe one of his sessions to give him some tips. After a few minutes of listening, the old priest suggests that they have a word. “I’ve got a few suggestions,” he says. “Try folding your arms over your chest and rub your chin with one hand.” The new priest tries this. “Very good,” says his senior. “Now try saying things like 'I see', 'I understand' and 'Yes, go on.'” The younger priest practises these sayings, too. “Well done,” says the older priest. “Don't you think that's better than slapping your knee and saying: “No way! What happened next?”
Why do people tend to laugh when someone slips over a banana skin or has a custard pie slapped into their face?
Well, according to one theory of humour, we laugh because these types of situations make us feel superior to other people. The person who tripped over the banana skin, or was the recipient of the custard pie, has been made to look silly and that makes us feel good. In fact, it makes us feel so good that we laugh.
The superiority theory also explains why we laugh at certain types of jokes. Many jokes make us feel superior to other people. In these types of jokes, people appear stupid because they have misunderstood an obvious situation, made a stupid mistake, been the hapless victim of unfortunate circumstance or have been made to look stupid by someone else. According to the theory, these jokes cause us to laugh because they make us feel superior to other people.
Here is a classic ‘superiority’ joke from LaughLab:
A woman goes into a cafe with a duck. She puts the duck on a stool and sits next to it. The waiter comes over and says: “Hey! That's the ugliest pig that I have ever seen.” The woman says: “It’s a duck, not a pig.” And the Waiter says: “I was talking to the duck.”
Incongruity theory The most popular theory of why we find jokes funny revolves around the concept of ‘incongruity’.
The idea is that we laugh at things that surprise us because they seem out of place. It’s funny when clowns wear outrageously large shoes, people have especially big noses or politicians tell the truth.
In the same way, many jokes are funny because they involve ideas that run against our expectations. A bear walks into a bar. Animals talk. And so on.
But there is more to this theory than such simple forms of incongruity. In many jokes, there is an apparent incongruity between the set-up and the punch line.
Take the following joke:
Two fish in a tank.
One turns to the other and says: “Do you know how to drive this?”
The set-up line leads us to think about two fish in a fish tank. But the punch line surprises us – why should the fish be able to drive a fish tank? Then, a split second later, we suddenly realise that the word ‘tank’ has two meanings, and that the fish are actually in an army tank.
Scientists refer to this as the ‘incongruity-resolution’ theory. We resolve the incongruity caused by the punch line, and the accompanying feeling of sudden surprise makes us laugh.
The following LaughLab jokes illustrate different kinds of incongruity:
Did you hear about the man who drowned in a bowl of muesli?
He was pulled under by a strong currant!
I said to the Gym instructor: “Can you teach me to do the splits?” He said: “How flexible are you?” I said: “I can't make Tuesdays.”
Two owls are playing in the final of the Owl Pool Championship. It comes down to the last frame. One of the owls is just about to play his shot, when his wing accidentally touches a ball. “That's two hits,” says the other owl. “Two hits to who?” says the first.
Did you hear about the ice-cream man, he was found dead in his ice-cream van, covered in chocolate sauce and hundreds-and-thousands? The police said that he had topped himself.
Two aerials met on a roof, fell in love and got married.
The ceremony was rubbish but the reception was brilliant.