Who Tells the Best Jokes? Neurotic, Aggressive JerksPosted: February 16, 2014
This was a landmark moment in comedy, because exactly two seconds after Nietzsche said this, the atomic wedgie was invented by the boy standing behind him in the middle-school lunch line.
Today science is looking for better explanations of comedy than existential suffering, cognitive scientist Scott Weems says in his book “Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why”
Along the way, comedy researchers have stumbled upon surprising truths. For instance, lawyer jokes were almost nonexistent in the 1950s, whereas today more than 3,000 websites are dedicated to attorney mockery. Jokes about cleanliness (“Why do Italian men wear mustaches? To look like their mothers.”) don’t work in Europe, where nobody thinks it’s odd if you don’t shower very often.
A Silver Star was once awarded for, essentially, Awesome Comedic Performance in Time of War (Vietnam captive Gerald Venanzi, an Air Force captain, kept morale up among his fellow POWs with a Roberto Benigni-worthy routine that involved riding a pretend motorcycle and telling jokes through an imaginary chimpanzee friend named Barney). And, most surprising of all, during a visit to a remote colony of indigenous peoples in Borneo, scientists even discovered someone who laughed at “The Hangover Part III.”
Other points found by comedy researchers are less surprising. For instance, studies show sense of humor is strongly linked to intelligence. Faith tends to be inversely correlated with some types of humor: A survey of some 400 subjects by Belgian psychologist Vassillis Saroglou found that strength of religious belief was inversely proportionate to social humor, and also that religious men have a tendency to tell a joke poorly.
Age and politics are linked to humor: Conservatives, and older people, prefer incongruity jokes over nonsensical ones.
Example of nonsense humor: A dog is at the telegraph office, dictating a telegram. “Woof,” he says. “Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof.” The telegraph clerk says, “That’s nine words. You could add in one more ‘Woof’ for the same price.” Dog says, “But that would make no sense at all.”
Example of incongruity humor: Woman walks into a bar with a duck on a leash. Bartender says, “Where’d you find the pig?” Woman says, “This isn’t a pig, you idiot, it’s a duck.” Bartender says, “I was talking to the duck.”
That last joke is also an aggressive one, one that comes at someone’s expense. Aggressive humor, you’ll probably guess, is linked to maleness, but also to American-ness. Other nationalities don’t respond nearly as favorably to put-downs, though one major international figure who does is God. Researchers investigating laughter by God or His followers in the Bible classified each occurrence as stemming from aggression, sadness or joy. The big winner was aggression, with 45 laughs. Laughter due to joy only happened twice.
All this is a long-winded way of confirming the obvious: that God is an American man. He probably drives a Ford-150 and made a point of resting on the seventh day because He had a lot of football to watch…
- COMEDY: Who tells the best jokes? Neurotic, aggressive jerks. Comedians are often awful people…. (pjmedia.com)
- Laughter and the Brain (theamericanscholar.org)
- Natasha Leggero’s Stand: Protecting The Jester’s Privilege (ethicsalarms.com)
- Judging Humor: The Fine Art Of Litigating What’s Funny (sbmblog.typepad.com)
- Comedians’ Smarts, Humor, and Creativity (psychologytoday.com)
- WOOF! Working Out Our Fears (karineumeyer.com)
- Introspection and Listing My Defenses; Part One (roninsjourney.wordpress.com)
- Humor, Locked and Loaded (nytimes.com)