“Joke Addiction” As A Neurological Symptom

By Neuroskeptic | February 28, 2016 5:51 am

In a new paper, neurologists Elias D. Granadillo and Mario F. Mendez describe two patients in whom brain disorders led to an unusual symptom: “intractable joking.”

Patient #1 was

A 69-year-old right-handed man presented for a neuropsychiatric evaluation because of a 5-year history of compulsive joking… On interview, the patient reported feeling generally joyful, but his compulsive need to make jokes and create humor had become an issue of contention with his wife. He would  wake her up in the middle of the night bursting out in laughter, just to tell her about the jokes he had come up with. At the request of his wife, he started writing down these jokes as a way to avoid waking her. As a result, he brought to our office approximately 50 pages filled with his jokes.

Granadillo and Mendez quote some of the patient’s gags:

Q: What is a pill-popping sexual molester guilty of? A: Rape and pillage.
Q: What did the proctologist say to his therapist? A: All day long I am dealing with assholes.

Went to the Department of Motor Vehicles to get my driver’s license. They gave me an eye exam and here is what they said:
ABCDEFG, HIJKMNLOP, QRS, TUV, WXY and Z; now I know my ABC’s, can I have my license please?

The man’s comedic compulsion was attributed to a stroke, which had damaged part of his left caudate nucleus, although an earlier lesion to the right frontal cortex, caused by a subarachnoid hemorrhage, may have contributed to the pathological punning. Granadillo and Mendez say that a series of medications, including antidepressants, had little impact on his “compulsive need to constantly make and tell jokes.”


Patient #2 was a 57-year old man, who had become “a jokester”, a transformation that had occurred gradually, over a three period. At the same time, the man became excessively forward and disinhibited, making inappropriate actions and remarks. He eventually lost his job after asking “Who the hell chose this God-awful place?”

The patient constantly told jokes and couldn’t stop laughing at them. However, he did not seem to find other people’s jokes funny at all.

The man’s case, however, came to a sad end. His behavior continued to deteriorate and he developed symptoms of Parkinson’s. He died several years later. The diagnosis was Pick’s disease, a rare form of dementia. A post mortem revealed widespread neurodegeneration: “frontotemporal atrophy, severe in the frontal lobes and moderate in the temporal lobes, affecting the right side more than the left” was noted.

The authors say that both of these patients displayed Witzelsucht, a German term literally meaning ‘joke addiction’. Several cases have been reported in the neurological literature, often associated with damage to the right hemisphere of the brain. Witzelsucht should be distinguished from ‘pathological laughter‘, in which patients start laughing ‘out of the blue’ and the laughter is incongruent with their “mood and emotional experience.” In Witzelsucht, the laughter is genuine: patients really do find their own jokes funny, although they often fail to appreciate those of others.

ResearchBlogging.orgGranadillo ED, & Mendez MF (2016). Pathological Joking or Witzelsucht Revisited. The Journal of Neuropsychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences PMID: 26900737

  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    Three words: Two Broke Girls. He’s a natural for being a sitcom writer. Other possibilities are Department of Education administrator, co-editor of DSM-6, macroeconomist, and President of Zimbabwe.

    • lump1

      Are you sure that your inane and seemingly compulsive posts are not the result of a stroke? Because if you get that diagnosed, you could have a syndrome named after you!

      • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

        Ouch. Neurological burn.

      • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

        After the doctor – noblesse oblige does not obtain..

        • lump1

          Hey, I just re-read my post from yesterday and now regret it. I was just annoyed by your spam in Discover forums and tried to make a article-referencing joke about it. I certainly do wish you all the best regarding health and everything else, and I’m sorry that what I said sounded kinda mean.

          • Bill C

            It really wasn’t that bad. You didn’t wish him ill, just offered a diagnosis.

          • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

            I don’t seek to be nice or even correct as such. I seek to be definitive.

          • quiethinker

            definitive is nice…’sokay.

          • http://www.theaterfunscripts.com JJaquish

            How nice of you. I do not think I have ever read an apology for a critical post before.

        • Loraine Williams

          ❣️Your emotional IQ is phenomenally high❣️
          Thank you for modeling adult interactions.

    • sterling bell

      Is there anybody who couldn’t write the “jokes” in that show? And yet I watch it every chance I get. Sigh. I am a lonely man.

    • Jorge Cruz

      Jajajajajaja “co-editor of DSM-6”

  • http://youngarchitect.com/ Michael Riscica

    Why did the Farmer join a punk rock band?!???
    …because he was tired of Hall and Oates!!!!

    • dearth_vader

      A friend and I went into a place to get a drink. It was quite dark inside. When our eyes finally adjusted to the light, we saw it was full of sheep. I said, ” Let’s get out of here. This is a ewe joint. ”

      I have taken several blows to the head, and now have seizures, but otherwise it doesn’t affect me, affect me, affect me.

  • andrew oh-willeke

    One doesn’t need to think to hard to imagine evolutionary advantages to a hardwired joke suppression circuit in the brains of most people.

  • Jenny H

    Very funny!!!!!!!

  • http://www.daviddeeble.com David Deeble

    After a head injury cost me the coordination in my arm I made the transition from conventional- to comedy juggler. This article reminded me more than a little of myself! https://youtu.be/0laAR70m4w8

  • Ing_R

    A Higgs boson walks into a cathedral. The priest rushes over and says, “I’m sorry but we don’t allow your kind in here.” The Higgs says, “Excuse me sir, but without me you can have NO MASS!”

    • partyboss

      CAN have no mass

    • Jorge Cruz

      Up you go!

    • buddygonzo

      Q:How many DaDaists does it take to change a light bulb?
      A: Banana

    • m000

      Por favor—no más!

  • Glenn Jericho

    Never knew her myself, but my family told me that my great grandmother would only speak in rhyme after her stroke.

    • James

      1: No more rhyming now, I mean it.
      2: Anybody want a peanut?

      • Eye_Occupy

        Ok, so the guy above you just talked about his grandmother’s stroke, and you’re making fun of it. So, you know that’s not ok, right?

        • James

          You did read the article, right?

    • http://www.daviddeeble.com David Deeble

      Wow, that’s weird. Sorry: rare, I mean rare.

  • partyboss

    I have a (bad?) habit of making a joke out of just about everything but I think I do it to highlight the absurdities of life in general. And the absurdities are seemingly perpetual and omnipresent. For instance, how many jokes can be made about a front-running candidate for POTUS while that candidate is under three investigations for influence peddling in addition to breaking at least one security protection law?

    • Don’t Even Try It!

      All of them?

      • partyboss

        No, nobody has that kind of time.

  • Robert0

    There may also be an affliction for those who pop out with words like “socialist” without knowing they mean. Hillary is a dyed-in-the-wool corporate, uber-wealthy capitalist and best buddy of Wall Street. We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming.

  • quiethinker

    I think these people should be hired to sit around all day with other comedy writers!!

  • pddigi

    You do realize that the ABCs are incorrectly listed in the article? HIJKMNLOP – I don’t think that’s part of this guy’s illness, just a typo, but still…

  • Drew Carr

    Thanks for covering this! I’m one of Dr. Mendez’s fellows. I’ll let him know you covered his work!

    • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic


  • wharg

    “…had occurred gradually, over a three period.”


  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com/neuroskeptic/ Neuroskeptic

    Hey, he linked to this post, so he’s not stealing in my book.

    Now compare that to this BBC piece from 9th March which doesn’t link to me…

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  • https://greatofreview.com Dave Dally

    Wow, this is so true. My friends son had a massive brain hemorrhage in his twenties. He had been a rather dour Marine and was studying to become a cop. After he survived this massive hemorrhage he became the family jokester and is always laughing and telling funny stories.Completely different personality.

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Neuroskeptic is a British neuroscientist who takes a skeptical look at his own field, and beyond. His blog offers a look at the latest developments in neuroscience, psychiatry and psychology through a critical lens.


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