What Is The World’s Funniest Joke?

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 takes 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 gunshot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says: “OK, now what?”

Well, my first impression was: “Hey, that’s not that funny.” And that in itself is interesting when we think about the backstory behind “the world’s funniest joke.”

This was the end result of an ambitious experiment by Richard Wiseman and The British Association for the Advancement of Science to do a worldwide search for what the world’s funniest joke. Participants submitted and rated jokes online (here’s the website: LaughLab). After parsing through some 40,000 jokes, researchers found some interesting evidence to suggest that people in different parts of the world have fundamentally different senses of humor, which is discussed a bit more here (see the “Humor Across the Globe” link).

The experiment is covered in greater detail in Quirkology. The so-called “World’s Funniest Joke” isn’t necessarily the funniest joke in that ZOMG LOL kind of way — it has more to do with some baseline level of universal appeal, more than anything else — kind of funny, to the largest group of people. From a technical level, Wiseman explained to the BBC that, “the joke contained all three elements of what makes a good gag – anxiety, a feeling of superiority, and an element of surprise.”

Some of my pieces of humor trivia from Wiseman:

  1. People also found jokes funniest in the middle of the month, not the beginning or the end.

  2. Jokes involving ducks were funnier than jokes involving any other animals.

  3. The famously lost book of Aristotle was on comedy, which is itself central to the plot of Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose.

This makes me think of lots of interesting questions. Why do we think things are funny? How do we go about measuring, or quantifying, something like funniness? Is it even possible? Why is humor such an engrained part of our way of communicating?

* Not to be confused of course with The Funniest Joke in the World:

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