New research reveals how to make your (bad) jokes funnier.

By Seriously Science | March 6, 2014 7:00 am
Photo: flickr/That Other Paper

Photo: flickr/That Other Paper

We’ve all been there: you tell a joke, only to have it fall flat, leaving you standing there in the dead silence wishing the ground would just swallow you up. Well, these scientists must have experienced this as well, because they designed a series of experiments to determine the best way to save a joke. Although it has long been assumed that jokes are the funniest when their punchlines are unexpected, the researchers discovered that surprise isn’t nearly as important as fluidity. In other words, it’s more important that your joke is easily understood than unexpected, and some jokes actually benefit from having their punchlines ruined. Apparently, peppering conversation with key words from the punchline before delivering a joke can help, as can writing printed jokes in easy-to-read font — which just might be the first evidence of a good use for Comic Sans.

A processing fluency-account of funniness: Running gags and spoiling punchlines.

“Earlier theories on humour assume that funniness stems from the incongruity resolution of the surprising punchline and thus an insight into the joke’s meaning. Applying recent psychological theorising that insight itself draws on processing fluency being the ease and speed with which mental content is processed, it is predicted that increasing the fluency of processing the punchline of a joke increases funniness. In Experiments 1 and 2, significant nouns from the punchlines or from the beginnings of jokes were presented before a joke was rated in funniness. Pre-exposing punchline words 15 minutes and even only 1 minute before the eventual joke led to increased funniness ratings. In contrast, pre-exposing punchline words directly before a joke led to decreased funniness ratings. Furthermore, pre-exposing the beginning of a joke 1 minute before the joke had no effects on funniness. Experiment 3 ruled out exposure-facilitated punchline anticipation as alternative mechanism, and Experiment 4 replicated this fluency effect with typing font as manipulation. These findings also show that pre-exposing a punchline, which in common knowledge should spoil a joke, can actually increase funniness under certain conditions.”

Related content:
NCBI ROFL: Humor and death: a qualitative study of The New Yorker cartoons (1986-2006).
NCBI ROFL: “Laughing at yourself”: you’re doing it wrong.
NCBI ROFL: Knock knock! Who’s there? Some random statement that you won’t remember.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: analysis taken too far, rated G
  • http://www.mazepath.com/uncleal/qz4.htm Uncle Al

    A neutron walks into bar, and decays. The barkeep allows the proton and electron to stay, but “the antineutrino has to go.”

    (Perhaps there was a sign, “you must be at least 21 cm or 13.6 eV to enter.”)

    • Guy Land

      I laughed, not sure why, but I laughed.

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

        It’s a sarcastic banana peel (discredited by Mythbusters) appealing to perceived personal scholastic superiority (the pre-punchline). It finishes with Liberal society perseveratively counting hairs while ignoring their gorillas at Mock 1 (the speed of sarcasm).

  • SemperWhy

    Pre-exposing punchline words 15 minutes and even only 1 minute before the eventual joke led to increased funniness ratings. In contrast, pre-exposing punchline words directly before a joke led to decreased funniness ratings. Furthermore, pre-exposing the beginning of a joke 1 minute before the joke had no effects on funniness.

    My layman’s interpretation: Call-back humor works.

    • Callmelennie

      What’s call-back humor mean? …. See what I did there?

  • Ken Snyder

    Always burp or fart at the end of every joke. Laughter guaranteed. You’re welcome…..

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Seriously, Science?, formerly known as NCBI ROFL, is the brainchild of two prone-to-distraction biologists. We highlight the funniest, oddest, and just plain craziest research from the PubMed research database and beyond. Because nobody said serious science couldn't be silly!
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