Two researchers walked into a bar, and a third one ducked. Are you laughing? Well, we know that's not the answer. Back in 2002, researchers at the University of Hertfordshire wanted to find the "world's funniest joke."
To locate the answer, Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at the university, started a program called LaughLab to ascertain the answer to that very complex research question. The question was designed to find the funniest joke across all cultures, regions, demographics and countries — not an easy task.
The yearlong study was a collaboration between Hertfordshire and the British Science Association. It involved "people sending in their favorite jokes, and rating how funny they found the jokes submitted by others," according to LaughLab's website. "The project attracted attention from the international media, resulting in the website receiving over 40,000 jokes and 1.5 million ratings."
Of the 40,000 jokes submitted, the winner was sent by Gurpal Gosall, a 31-year-old psychiatrist from Manchester, England.
"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 whips 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 shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says, "OK, now what?"
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The study exposed ties across nations for humorous wordplay. The study also broke joke popularity down by country.
The United States' data was skewed slightly when newspaper columnist Dave Barry "urged readers to submit jokes that simply ended with the punch line: 'There's a weasel chomping on my privates.'" This caused the weasel jokes to be propelled above any other when the LaughLab team received more than 1,500 weasel-chomping gags. This was the most popular:
At the parade, the colonel notices something unusual going on and asks the major: "Major Barry, what the devil's wrong with Sgt. Jones' platoon? They seem to be all twitching and jumping about." "Well sir," says Major Barry after a moment of observation. "There seems to be a weasel chomping on his privates."
Aside from weasel jokes, the funniest entry in the United States was the following:
"A man and a friend are playing golf one day at their local golf course. One of the guys is about to chip onto the green when he sees a long funeral procession on the road next to the course. He stops in mid-swing, takes off his golf cap, closes his eyes and bows down in prayer. His friend says, 'Wow, that is the most thoughtful and touching thing I have ever seen. You truly are a kind man.' The man then replies: 'Yeah, well, we were married 35 years.'"
According to the study, People from the Republic of Ireland, the U.K., Australia and New Zealand expressed a strong preference for jokes involving wordplays.
Americans and Canadians preferred "gags where there was a sense of superiority — either because a person looked stupid, or was made to look stupid by another person."
Aside from the human-submitted jokes, the researchers wanted to assess computer-generated humor. They inserted five of the computer-generated jokes, and while four performed poorly, one gag scored higher than one-third of all the human jokes.
LaughLab didn't just wait for the results to roll in; its researchers also mined the data to determine what factors helped influence a joke's success — for example, the perfect length (around 100 words) or the best animal to use in place of a person (a duck). In addition, they learned that Germans appreciate a wide variety of humor — so if you're going to tell a joke, find a German, as they're the most likely to laugh.
"Humor is vital to communication and the more we understand about how people's culture and background affect their sense of humor, the more we will be able to communicate effectively," Wiseman said. "These results are really interesting — it suggests that people from different parts of the world have fundamentally different senses of humour."