Laughter may be one of the most universal emotions. Yet, scientists are still trying to figure out what makes us laugh.
This book explains the origins and cultural significance of American humor. It is designed to help new speakers of English break through the cultural and language barriers to understanding American humor. It is also an excellent resource for high school, college, and adult ed culture study and conversation classes.
What is a joke?
A joke is a form of humor that elicits amusement or laughter. It usually consists of a setup followed by a punchline. The setup details the characters, setting, and situation of a story, while the punchline is a twist that creates a humorous or absurd outcome. There are many different types of jokes. Some are satirical, sarcastic, ironic, or foolish. Others are based on a particular theme or topic, such as ethnic groups, professions (viola jokes), catastrophes (earthquake jokes), or settings (knock-knock jokes). There are also joke cycles that reuse the same narrative structure and type of humor (like elephant jokes or dead baby jokes).
Sigmund Freud was one of the first modern scholars to consider the psychological meaning of a joke. He theorized that a sense of humor is a way for people to share worldviews and beliefs, which strengthens social bonds.
While previous humor theories have focused on identifying what makes people laugh, researchers at the Humor Research Lab, or HuRL, have developed a formula that explains why some jokes work while others don’t. They have found that for something to be funny, it needs to be a violation of expectations or norms. This can be accomplished by pairing unlikely symbols or by introducing an incongruity. However, it is essential to note that not all violations are equal.
What makes a joke funny?
A joke is funny if it subverts expectations and provides a different resolution to the expected outcome. This is what makes it humorous, and it’s also the reason for so many other joke structures: anecdotal (based on a personal experience), puns, wordplay, irony, pratfalls, and more. Jokes can be conveyed verbally or written in photos, films, or sketches. Often, they are based on actual events or people, but they can be exaggerated and can include fictional characters as well.
While scientists have long studied humor, they have struggled to explain why certain jokes make us laugh, and others don’t. Some theories focus on surprise or the unexpected, while others emphasize incongruity and the pairing of unlikely symbols or concepts. Still, others rely on tension relief or the sudden realization that something that seemed threatening is actually harmless.
One recent study found that people were more likely to find something funny if it was both a violation and benign, like mocking a severe tragedy, but only after a significant amount of time had passed. However, these are just general guidelines, and it’s important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all explanation for what makes a joke funny.
When you start writing a joke, it’s best to write down any ideas that come to mind. You can jot them down on your phone, or you can even use a notebook—Jerry Seinfeld swears by it. Over time, you will start to see connections between your ideas, and you’ll be able to create a structure for your joke.
What makes a joke not funny?
There are many reasons a joke may not be funny. It could be offensive or hurtful, it might rely on stereotypes, or it may not resonate with the audience. It could also be poorly timed or delivered, or it might be culturally or linguistically inappropriate. But the most common reason a joke is not funny is because it violates a social norm. This is why it is essential to consider the impact of a joke before telling it.
One of the earliest theories of humor was Arthur Koesther’s 1964 incongruity theory. This theory suggests that for a joke to be funny, it must have both incongruity and resolution. In other words, the punchline must be different from what you expect it to be based on the setup. For example, if a man is tried for armed robbery and the jury finds him not guilty, that is a paradox. The resolution, however, is that the jury found him not guilty.
Another way a joke can be funny is through disparagement humor. This type of humor involves denigration of a group, such as women, black people, or people with disabilities. This type of humor can be offensive and can make people feel bad about themselves. It can also make people feel like they are being attacked and that they are not welcome in the conversation.
What makes a joke not funny for everyone?
There are a variety of reasons that a joke may not be funny for everyone. For example, some jokes may be offensive or hurtful to specific groups of people. Other reasons may include cultural and language barriers. In addition, some jokes may not be well-timed or delivered.
For example, a joke about sex or race may not be funny to all people because it is considered disparagement humor – any attempt to amuse by denigrating a group of people. Disparagement humor is particularly unfunny for members of the targeted group, who must then learn to laugh at the jokes or avoid being treated as a laughing stock. In one behavioral study, researchers tested the joy generated by three versions of a joke: a version that included both contradiction and resolution, a version that only contained resolution, and a version that only had incongruity. They found that the version that included both incongruity and resolve produced the highest levels of joy.