Episode #9 of the course Humor: Science of how to be funny by David Urbansky
You have done a lot of learning in the last couple of days. As a reward, I would like to tell you some interesting facts about humor. These will undoubtedly give you great small talk material for the next party.
World’s Funniest Joke
Let’s start off with something you can immediately put into your joke bank—the world’s funniest joke. LaughLab  has evaluated 40,000 jokes from 70 countries rated by 350,000 people. Each joke was rated on a five-point scale. Here’s the overall winner:
A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing; his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls emergency services. He gasps to the operator, “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator, in a calm, soothing voice says, “Just take it easy. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is silence, then a shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says, “OK, now what?”
Okay, maybe not as funny as you’d expected, but let’s briefly look at which of our comedic tools we can identify. STOP. Before reading on, try for yourself and then compare with the list below!
• Clearly, this is dark humor since a hunter dies, so shock and dark humor are involved.
• The fact that the hunter is misinterpreting the phrase “make sure he’s dead” can be put into the wordplay category.
• The action of the hunter (shooting the other one) comes as a surprise (incongruity theory).
• The vivid picture of two hunters in the woods conjures up a certain type of character.
• You can also argue that we laugh because we feel superior to the hunter, because how can he be dumb enough to misinterpret the instructions?
Dying from Laughter
Granted, it’s a bit ironic to add this to the fun facts section, but did you know that people have died of laughter? It’s super rare, but extensive laughter can lead to a heart attack or a lack of oxygen in the blood.
One of the oldest recorded cases is the Greek philosopher Chrysippus, who at the age of 73 saw a donkey eat some figs and shouted: “Now give the donkey a drink of pure wine to wash down the figs!” Apparently, he amused himself so much that he died in a fit of suicidal laughter.
In 1611, the Scottish aristocrat Sir Thomas Urquhart died laughing after hearing that his incompetent nemesis, Charles II, had taken the throne. In a more recent case, a Danish man named Ole Bentzen died watching the movie A Fish Called Wanda. Supposedly, his heart rate shot up to almost 500 beats per minute, triggering a heart attack. The scene that he found so deadly funny showed a criminal eating a goldfish from an aquarium in order to make someone talk. Here’s the scene if you’re curious…and not afraid.
Random Humor Fun Facts
• Oldest light bulb joke: “How many people does it take to screw in a light bulb? Three: one to hold the bulb and two to turn the ladder.”
I put in the word “people” but usually a group of people that will be degraded goes here (e.g., blondes, certain nationalities).
• The longest stand-up comedy show by an individual lasted 40 hours, 8 minutes and was performed by the Midnight Swinger, aka David Scott, at the Diamond Jo Casino in Dubuque, Iowa, USA in 2013.
• Comedy is funnier in groups. We are 30 times more likely to laugh when we’re in a group . By the way, that’s also the reason TV sitcoms use canned laughter.
• In their research, LaughLab also found that the funniest jokes are 103 words long, the best time to make a joke is 6:03 pm, and the funniest animals are ducks .
• Remember the formula Tragedy + Time = Comedy? It turns out that the average delay between a tragedy and being able to make fun of it is 17 days .
• The oldest joke on record is a Sumerian proverb from 1900 BCE, which happens to be—you guessed it—a fart joke: “Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband’s lap.”
Did you take notes? Drop that newfound knowledge on your friends. In the last lesson tomorrow, we’ll review what we have learned and how we can practice our comedic skills while having fun.
“He who laughs, lasts.” —Mary Pettibone Poole
True Facts That Sound like Bulls#*t: 500 Insane-But-True Facts That Will Shock and Impress Your Friends by Shane Carley
 Robert Provine, professor of psychology at Maryland University
Share with friends