Thursday, May 22, 2008

Funniest Joke in the World

Gregory McNamee at the Britannica Blog weighs in on what makes a good joke.

All the same, according to research conducted a few years back at the University of Hertfordshire, the funniest joke in the world, the one that most easily travels across cultures, is about death. It goes something like this:

Two hunters are out hunting. One of them falls over and seems not to be breathing. His friend calls 911* and cries, “What do I do?” “Well, first, let’s make sure he’s dead,” says the operator. There is silence, and then a shot rings out. The hunter returns to the phone and says, “Okay, now what?”

It’s a good joke, to be sure. But curiously, the jokes that seemed to work the best on the cross-cultural charts were just over 100 words long, with the optimum number being 103. The full version of the hunters joke tips in at 102 words, lending credence to the notion that a strange numerology is at play. Couple that with linguistic studies that suggest that velar consonants are funnier than alveodentals and sibilants and such (thus “kayak” is a funny word, “yellow” and “sassy” not so much), and we have the beginnings of a formula. Back to the drawing board, then

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