Published using Google Docs
The Funniest Joke in the World - Public Transcript
Updated automatically every 5 minutes

The Quest Begins


Hi I'm Wendy Zukerman and you're listening to Science Vs. We're the show that pits facts against funny…. and today is our 200th episode!! Can you believe it! That is so many facts vs other things! Thanks for being with us!! So to celebrate our 200th episode, we are taking you an  ridiculous quest… we're like heroes on this epic adventure… that at times might get a little rude.. a little naughty… but before we go any further…

like all heroes journeys… we'll need a companion… like Robin to Batman, Samwise Gamgee to Frodo Baggins' …. Buzz to Woody…. Our companion is a man who has gone on a great many scientific quests… traveled the world… put one foot in front of the other.. I give you… co host of Radiolab.. Latif Nasser… HI!!!!

Hi. Thank you for having me. I I'm honored to be the, the Frodo to your  Batman I'm. I'm honored to be here

WZ So do you want to know our mission?  

LN Yeah.

WZ Okay. We're going to find the funniest joke in the world.

LN Wow. It sounds dangerous

WZ I know!!! It sounds dangerous, It's BIG… But I'll keep us safe!!!

LN: OK Great

But you might be thinking why, why are we doing this

LN Yep

WZI just wanted to tell you the origin story to this hero's journey.  

LN Okay.


WZ It doesn't get bigger than this… Right the other day, I was a little bit sad, and I wanted to pick me up, so I just went to Google the world's funniest joke … and yknow what I got… trash… absolute trash…

Did you hear about the rancher who had 97 cows in his field… When he "rounded" them up he had 100…

LN Oh, that was not even that's that's real bad.

WZ Yeah.

LN That's solemn like you could tell that at a funeral.

WZ I was like, this is making me feel worse

WZ I kept trying different search terms… and got crap like this… What has many keys but can't open a single lock?

LN What has many keys but can’t open a single lock…

WZ A piano…

LN Yeah, I mean that that to me, that's not a joke. That's like a that's like a riddle or like it makes sense.  

WZ That’s a riddle. It belongs in Lord of the Rings, right?

LN Yeah, It's not a joke.

WZ It’s not a joke, it’s not even close to a joke.

And I just thought – we can do better. Using research and Rigor. We can do better. We can find the BEST joke in the world!!

LN So… you know, there are other things that could cheer you up, like, I mean, sugar, antidepressants, a hug.

WZ That's true…

LN You know, there's like, a lot of other things that you could do, but just just not to. I'm not judging your life or anything.  

WZ No, no, that's — you think googling the funniest joke  probably wasn't, like, a long term solution?

LN Not a long term solution to your problems? Yeah, that's basically where I'm coming from. So.  

WZ But I thought.

LN You you thought it was —

WZ Couldn’t hurt. OK … so to start us off – I wanted if it was even possible…to the funniest joke in the world…??

LN Yes right

So I asked a bunch of comedians…

Ok great,

WZ And here's their response… here's …  US Comedian Tig Notaro..

LN Brilliant comedian

WZ Yes, she said. she wasn't optimistic…

WZ Do you think we can find this joke?

TN Sure. Over and over and over again. Because it's going to be different opinions.  

LN Yeah

Takashi Wakasugi, from Japan… agreed with Tig, saying y’know comedy is subjective…people have different opinions  That's why being a comic is so hard..and he said, in many ways .. telling jokes is like having sex…  

TW We want to make you feel better. We do always do our best, right? But sometimes we don't know what you want, what you like …

WZ RightAnd some people make noise if you like it. And some people don’t make noise even though they enjoy it

WZ: And you can't use the same technique on everyone.

TW Yeah

LN Yeah this is hard right??

WZ This is hard…

I asked my very good friend and award winning comic in Australia, Penny Greenhalgh… I just really thought I'd get a supportive answer here …

WZ Do you think I can do it?

PG No no

WZ Penny!!!!

PG I reckon you’ll try your hardest

WZ Let's try again… Do you think I can do it?

PG Wendy I am your friend – and as your friend…I'm going to be honest with you – I don't think you will.

With friends like that … Latif I can see your face dropping… But some comics were on team Batman and Frodo; team Wendy and Latif… Like here's what Malaysian comic, Dr Jason Leong said……

JL Wow, I suppose, technically it's possible…

LN I suppose, technically it's possible! That's a ringing endorsement7!!

He even had a strategy saying if you get a few jokes.. have a big enough sample … get a voting system going across the world … thought we could do it… And Emmy Award winner Loni Love had so much optimism for us … that she even gave me a clue…

LL It's just something simple that people usually laugh at, and it is right there in front of your face. You know, it's right there, and it's something that everybody can laugh at.

LN It's funny because like to the the critique of the premise was this is too complicated, right?  

WZ Yes.  

LN And then and then this. Solution for the quest. Like it's just go simple. Which I think is right.

WZ Yeah,

LN I think that's right.  Cos even if there's no such thing as the perfect joke, there is somewhere the joke that more of the 8 billion people on planet Earth will laugh at than any other joke. Do you know what I mean?  

WZ I think so, I think so, I think, yeah, that's right. Even if everyone in the world doesn't find it funny, it's.  

LN That's right.

WZ It's still it's helping lots of people.

LN  Yeah yeah yeah. Yeah.

WZ Put a smile on their face…

LN There must be something,

WZ There's got to be!!

LN Sure!!

WZ With this enthusiasm, with this mindset! Our hunt for the funniest joke in the world begins. And it's coming up after this break…

Coming up!


Welcome back - today on the show… our biggest challenge yet… to find the funniest joke… IN THE WORLD… We're here with our science sidekick - Latif Nasser… How are you feeling about our chances??

LN You know not. I wouldn't bet for us, but I wouldn't bet against us.  

WZ That is very ambiguous. That's great. Do you have.Do you have a joke to enter into the funniest joke competition?

LN Yes. Okay, so this is a thing that my, my two year old said. This is like a few months ago, and it alternately. Makes me laugh and, like, kind of like, horrifies me. Okay, so one day I was going out. He was sitting. He was playing, like, just by the door. And I was going out and I was like okay, bud, I'm going to take out the garbage. And he goes, why don't you take your face?


 That was it. He's like completely roasted me like, no, nothing. Nothing before it. Nothing to it that like it just came out of nowhere.

WZ: Why don't you take your face?

Why don't you take your face?  with the garbage Because your face is garbage, is what he's saying to me. My son, my own son, my own flesh and blood.

Why Laughing Matters

WZ: That's pretty good… pretty good… Our first entry into the world's funniest joke competition!!

LN haha

And now our first scientist is here to set the stakes…to tell us how important this quest is... so meet Sophie Scott..

SS I'm a professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at University College London[1] 

This fancy person,  as part of her work - researches laughter… and she told me there's a gaggle…or giggle of research out there that shows why laughing matters… So what's curious is that we humans are not the only ones to laugh… rats do a kind of playful vocalisation..  if you umm… tickle them just right… [2]

SS Well, what what you need to do to tickle a rat is you need to tickle them on the nape of the neck. That's where they're really ticklish. So they're just sort of between the shoulder blades.

Primates[3], like Chimps do a laugh… [4] 

SS The chimpanzee sounds very much like our laughter like heheheheh

Here's an actual chimp laughing


WZ: Isn't her impersonation very good?

LN She did great, that was spot on

But even though there are other creatures out there that do a kind of laugh, there are things that are very special about our human laughter. And one of them is this…  

SS Humans laugh loud. We laugh to be heard. We broadcast our laughter.

LN What a weird sort of obnoxious thing. Like for us humans. Like we're the loud laughers of the animal kingdom. Like what a weird thing.

WZ I’m desperately trying to laugh quietly right now, this moment

LN Like imagine like on Noah's Arc or whatever. It's like we're the ones laughing. And everyone else was like, oh God. Like we get it. Like you're having fun.

WZ We're all having fun just going like hehehe

LN  That's right. Right. We're just doing it breathy and over here and to ourselves. And you just like, really are rubbing it in.  

WZ Yes, yes. 

But I mean, that is exactly what we think the evolutionary purpose of this is, is to like, show that we are laughing, and possibly to get others laughing too to bring joy[5]. Because as far as science knows  we're the only animals, as far as science knows… that have contagious laughter[6]… so if I start laughing, you're more likely to start laughing[7] We're way more likely to laugh when other people are around, versus when we're alone…[8][9]  And when it comes to jokes… Sophie has found that the power of laughter is so strong… that it can turn a terrible joke.… into a funnier joke…[10] Yeah so she did this study where she got some jokes

SS We took real stinkers, like what's the best day for cooking? Fry-day!

LN: Oh yeah…

WZ She got these stinkers, as she puts it, and she found that just by adding a laugh… people rated these stinkers as funnier… 

LN Huh

WZ And  for Sophie this all shows that laughter is playing this really important role in connecting people[11]

SS  So there really is something very basic about the ability of laughter, perhaps, to jump the gaps between humans.

Latif, if we could find a joke to get the whole world laughingwe could be Nobel Prize winners or at least ignobel prize winners!

LN Okay. Not not to throw a monkey wrench in here to to to your. But so so it's true. Laughter is this thing that, you know, it's like you laugh and the whole world laughs with you. And dad ad ada, But laughter is also… Can be savage. And so there's laughing with and there's laughing at –  is the other thing. Cos-  it's like, who's the butt of the joke and how? So it's like, so we're playing with some high like high stakes here because we could also we could bring the whole world together, but we could aim collectively ridicule and humiliation. We could divide.

WZ No –  I feel like to get the funniest joke in the world because. Yes.

And studies have indeed found that surprise, surprise if you, if you make, ethnic and racist jokes, if you are all of that group being ridiculed, or if you even just care about the group being ridiculed, you find the joke less funny[12] [13]. There was, a study that was done if on, on blasphemous jokes that practicing Christians found them less funny than atheists, even though generally they had very similar sense of humor.[14] 

So I feel like because of this, yeah, we're going to find the funniest joke in the world. It cannot be. It cannot be othering.  Because we need to maximize the amount of people that we are bringing joy to.  

LN Yeah yeah, I agree.  

Okay. So with that in mind, with the stakes truly set for this quest. Yeah.  Yep.

The Scientific Search for the World's Funniest Joke

Now we've just got to find this joke. Okay, but where to start? So start I, I kept puttering around on the internets, even though that did not give me the funniest joke. But it did bring me to this fella. Richard Wiseman, a professor of psychology at the University at Hertfordshire in the UK.  


LN Notoriously funny university. It's very well known

WZ And shire for our quest!!

LN Ok great, I’m in.

So in the early 2000s… Richard was asked to come up with a big science public project…it was for a fancy British science association…  and he cannot think of anything… but as he’s walking through the doors of the meeting …

RW This idea just popped into my head, which was the search for the world's funniest joke.


LN Twinsies!

RW And that was my pitch. I simply sat down. I said, we're going to search for the world's funniest joke. Well. And they went, that's a great idea. Let's do that. I didn't expect them to say it, to be honest. So that was easy.

WZ This is well, this is quite funny because we've…

WZ I explained our situation..

LN Our situation of course!!

WZ I pitched to my editor that we’re gonna find the world’s funniest joke… I didn't know how I would do this… and all we have is some  crappy piano joke about pianos and keys. But that's not funny!!

RW No, that's not the funniest joke in the world. Wouldn't it be sad if that was the funniest joke in the world? If everyone went, oh my God, it's the piano joke!! We love that.

WZ Exactly.

RW So, exactly with the experience you had, pitching to your editor was the one that I had all those years ago.

WZ Yes.

RW So I go back to the team at university of Hertfordshire I said, we're going to find the world's funniest joke. And they went, great, how are we going to do that? And I said, I've got no idea. I didn't get that far in the pitch. We've got nothing, basically.

LN: Okay. Very relatable. I like this guy a lot, although I have no idea what he's gonna do next..

WZ But then they come up with a plan a radical plan! Well it's radical for the 2000s…


RW We decided people would come onto the internet, the newly formed internet. They would that they would. Type in their favorite joke and submit it, and they would rate the jokes submitted by others. And, and, and nowadays you go, well, of course you could do that could do people all over the world. But back then, there wasn't a way of collecting data via the web.

And so Richard's team had to develop a website from scratch that could do all this. Where people could either submit jokes.. Or they go onto the website and be shown different jokes to rate them on how funny they are. So they get this website done.  And now they just need to get some publicity. Because the whole experiment hinges on getting lots and lots of people to go online, submit jokes, and rate them.

LN Right

 But turns out that wasn't a problem… news outlets lap this up

RW And it goes viral. It goes all over the world.[16]. Scientists are searching for the world's funniest joke.

What makes one person laugh, could make another person cringe…  

The search is on to find the world's funniest joke…

RW There was a lot of pressure. There was a lot of pressure. Oh my goodness. Going to find the world's funniest joke.

WZ And so the hunt begins…

WZ: And so people rated the jokes on a giggleometer.  

RW Yeah, we refer to it as a giggleometer

WZ Giggleometer

RW And it was very scientific. It had five ratings on it from not very funny, which would be the piano joke. Would be not very funny, through to moderately funny and then on to absolutely hilarious.

WZ So the ranking is 1 to 5.


WZ And it's totally working… people are coming on to the site… in droves..

LN Great…

WZ in fact very early on people start putting dirty jokes onto the website… OF COURSE…

LN he has to be ok with that? No? He's not?

WZ Nooo he's not so in this experiment they actually removed the dirty jokes.. because this was a big family experiment, unlike Science Vs …..

LN Ok – oh got it, so you're doing all the way, all the jokes??

WZ But Richard removes the rude jokes…

What's funnier: Woof, Quack or Moo?

WZ But then…  as the competition is trucking along… 

LN Yeah

WZ one day Richard checks in with his team and sees a joke that would send him – and us on a rather interesting path….

LN Hmmm

almost like the endless stairs to cross into Mordor…   Here's the the joke ...


OK so here’s the joke

RW Two cows in the field, one turns to the other and says, Moo! And the other one says, I was going to say that. [17]

WZ Not bad, Not bad

RW Old, old joke. Old joke. That's probably a 2 or 3 on the gigolometer.

LN Yeah, yeah, I would agree. That's 2 or 3.

WZ So clearly that's not going to be the winner of either Richard's competition or ours

But it makes Richard think…wait a sec – we could do an experiment within an experiment… So Richard wonders…  what if we tried out different versions of this cow joke but switching up the animals ... could that tell us something deeper about WHY one joke is funnier one one joke isn't..

LN Oh yeah…

RW So you could have two lions. One turns, the other one roars, and the other says, I was going to say that.

LN Less funny!! That's less funny, yeah…

Interesting! Interesting! Other ones they tried…[18] Two birds going ‘Cheep’, two ducks, one says quack… two dogs going ‘Woof"... I was going to say that…

LN No that's not funnymaybe maybe that's funny - not because of the noise, but because dogs are so relatable

So they put a bunch of these jokes into the database… and people when they come on… they might randomly be given one of those jokes…  so which do you think is the funniest??

LN Quack Quack

WZ Yes!

LN It was!!

WZ That was the winner


RW Two ducks. One says quack. And the other one says I was going to say that. 

So the big question is… why is the duck quacking so funny??

LN Ok and why??

RW And it turned out that ducks and quack are funny words.

LN Yes!

What is it about ducks or quacks?? Why are they funny??

Well the answer lies in this fabulously named paper – Wriggly, squiffy, lummox, and boobs: What makes some words funny?...[19]

LN Nice!


And here's what they did: they used this survey where hundreds of people had been asked to rate the funniness of thousands of English words [20] And they used, basically the equivalent of the gigglometer … So you wanna play?  [21]

Yeah, yeah. Definitely.

WZ Juju

LN Juju is funnyyeah

WZ Chauffeur…

LN Chauffeur? Not funny…

WZ Orgy

LN Orgy not funny

WZ Holder

LN Holder?

WZ Holder

LN Not funny. Holder is the least funny word you said.

WZ Hahahah I don't know why that makes me laugh so much… it's just such a dumb thing…

LN No cause holder it’s so functional…

You picked basically the right order…so juju was ranked the highest, of the words I gave you, then orgy – which in this study was considered pretty funny;  then chauffeur, and holder not funny at all… [22] So then the researchers pored over the data set to create an algorithm for funny words that they then applied to more than 45,000 English words…  And I actually have the, the Excel spreadsheet here, so if you want to throw out any words…

LN Oh, wow. Okay, okay okay. Okay, okay. Yeah.  I'm almost more curious. What are the words at the very bottom of the list?

WZ Okay. Very interesting… the least funny word…

LN Least funny word.  

WZ According to this study… is harassment

LN Harassment?? That makes me want to make a joke where the punchline is harassment.  

WZ I know right?!

The Comedy K

So the research is like Really swam in that data to try and see patterns as to what is funny and what is not. And one thing that really came up is that certain sounds are funny, Like K[23]

RW Anything with a hard K, so clown

LN Duck and quack!! Both of them have a K

And it's funny because this comedy K…  there's an episode of the Simpson's about it… [24] … comedians know about it, there's, 30 Rock has a joke about it..

Last year Jenna accused me of trying to destroy her because her lines didn't have any K sounds, which she thinks is the funniest sound

OMG my cousin karl crashed his car and now he's in a coma at the kendall clinic


LN hahah, that's good!

Now, as far as I can tell, no one has repeated this experiment in a non-English language… and because we’re looking for the funniest joke in the world. I wanted to ask comics about this in other languages… so we're kind of stuck with anecdotes unfortunately… but I asked Egyptian comic Mohammed Magdi what is a funny word in Arabic.. and this is what he said…  

MM I think the word for, shell, like, the shell that you find in the beach is quite funny. It's called Kaoka'a 

WZ Kaoka'a  .

MM Yeah, yeah. So if you just took.

WZ Two Ks!

MM Yeah. Two Ks! There you go. Actually you're right. Oh my God, science does work! What?

LN I love that that's the thing. It's like he was like, oh, vaccines. Yeah. Yeah I guess I guess maybe, but like it's like oh but this K thing like, oh we're really on to something here.  

WZ So other sounds in English that are funny are “ooo” sounds like booby and whoop,

LN Oo yeah sure…

WZ as well as words ending in Y[25] and le… like giggle, and waddle also are funny[26]

LN Yeah, huh

WZ As a general rule – letters and sounds that aren't very common tend to rate as funnier[27]…    So K sound is pretty rare.. [28] 

 And also if you have a strange collection of sounds in a word, that tends to be funny. I talked about this with comedian Tig Notaro. A co-host on her podcast, Handsome… said this one day

TN Bulbous frog, and I couldn't move on. I said, I'm sorry. We have to go back. What do you. What do you mean, a bulbous frog? Also, the delivery of this word it kept like. Yes. And the bulbous frog. And it was so bulbous. And I was like, STOP SAYING THAT WORD. Like it made me sick to my stomach. But I also recognized it as a funny word.

Yes and according to the wriggly, squiffy paper – Bulbous does rank pretty highly[29]

And I kept searching for clues in other languages… as to what words might be funny …

LN So smart, so smart!

So I talked to Indian comic, Urooj Ashfaq about this. She won the best newcomer at Edinburgh last year[30]  …She speaks Hindi, she’s performed all over India… says there are a few words that often get a laugh…

UA There's this word called Chinchpokli, which is yeah

WZ That's very funny!

UA It's really funny. Chinchpokli. It's a place.[31]

WZ It's a place! Chinchpokli

UA And every time someone says it

WZ But it does have a K right? Chinchpokli

UA Yes, yes you’re right

WZ But that's not why it's funny Right?

UA I don't… maybe it's it's the chinch is it's it's so thin. And then the Pokli is so wide… I feel like

wait, why’d you put that together? Chinchpokli

WZ Chinchpokli.

UA Chinchpokli

WZ Chinchpokli. Right?

LN ooh so good, satisfying

WZ It's a neighbourhood in Mumbai

Now what makes words funny isn't just their sounds. It's also their meanings. So in English, this study found that rude words, words about body parts and bodily functions, insult words, also rate as funny[32][33].. So this thing with insulting words being funny seems to track in India too… So Urooj, she told me about one more… and we're about to get a little bit rude here…

LN Great…

WZ Is ooo funny in India?

UA Oo is funny! I think oo is funny. Like goo – it means shit, and goo khao means eat shit in Hindi, that usually gets a laugh


So after the break… we’re going to hear  the winner of Richard's experiment… and will we find the funniest joke in the world??

LN Who knows? Who knows? Could go either way. Could go either way here


Do different cultures have different senses of humour?

We're back!! On our grand quest to find the funniest joke in the world… I'm your dungeon master and my paladin is Latif Nasser…  


So as we're on this journey for the funniest joke in the world… one potential hiccup in our plan.. is if different countries and cultures have vastly different senses of humour. And this is something you hear talked about. Like, even when I was living in New York, people would like to talk about how Australians have such a different sense of humor to Americans.

And so I looked into the research on this –  And one big study published a few years ago – that had done surveys on 28 countries…yknow thousands and thousands of people[34]and they did find people from Indonesia and Japan tended to use self-disparaging humour[35]... so making fun of themselves... while Russia and Estonia scored on high on aggressive humor that might involve belittling or teasing others.

LN Mmmm

So there are some differences …  But, the thing is – For all these gulfs that scientific papers like to highlight…   the research paper ultimately concluded that there are “more similarities than differences across the countries”[36]...

LN Yeah. Yeah, I believe that, I believe that. Yeah, I think that's right.  

WZ Yeah yeah. And some of the comedians I spoke to about finding the funniest joke in the world – said, that as long as we make sure that our  joke doesn’t have specific cultural references in it… like talking about the politics of some specific place …

LN Yeah 

WZ as long as we stick to Universal themes…yknow sex… bodily fluids…family dynamics…  and we'll up our chances of finding this joke…

LN Which is why bodies are so... yeah bodies work.. Bodies, animals…

WZ: Yeah yeah, I like that, I like that

The winner!

So now let's fast forward to the end of Richard Wiseman's experiment… a year has passed…  he's gotten 40,000 jokes… hundreds of thousands of ratings…  from 70 countries… [37]... And Richard told me that by the end of the experiment… it was really clear.. that this competition was OVER  

RW You could see the same jokes coming in again and again. If I read, what's brown and sticky? A stick…  If I read that one more time, every morning 3 or 4 people had put that in.  

WZ How is it? Did it rate well?

RW No! No no no, it’s always down there with pianos. It never did well…

WZ And funnily enough -  20 years later… when we did a call out on social media… and this brown and sticky… joke came up over and over again...

LN OH man!! Wow

Ok So Latif… Are you ready to hear the winner of Richard's competition?

LN Yes yes yes yes yes…

Do you want to do a little a drum roll??

LN Oh sure… Drum roll


RW There are two hunters out in the woods. One of them collapses. Doesn't seem to be breathing. His eyes are glazed. His friend whips out his phone, calls the emergency services. He says my friend is dead. What can I do? The operator says, calm down, I can help. First, let's make certain he's dead. There's a silence, then a gunshot, and then the guy's back on the phone. He says, okay, now what?

LN Hahahah – that was good! That was good. I liked it!!

WZ So I told it to a bunch of our comedians… to umm..  Rather mixed reviews…

LN Ok ok ok, let’s hear it.

MM: It's a.. that's a great joke.  

LL It's just dumb.

PG hahah yeah … yeah – that's the winner!??  

TW Really? Really??

WZ If you had, like, A+ funniest joke in the world, F, bad joke. What, are you rating it?

JL I would give it, I will, I will give it a passing grade, it passes as a joke.  

WZ Wow. It passes as a joke! Like that's where it gets. You were aware —

JL That is a joke. That is a joke. Well done. But try harder. Yknow what I mean.

That last, harsh critique is comedian Jason Leong… and I was on his side.. So when Richard first told me this hunter joke..  this was my reaction..

WZ What!? How is that the funniest joke in the world??? 

LN Oh Wow

WZ Why did you — you didn't mind it. You don't mind it?

LN I didn't mind it. I mean, maybe I'm a cheap laugh. It's kind of wholesome, even though it's about death — murder! It's like a wholesome murder joke, y’know? That's funny

WZ I asked Richard what he thought about it.

WZ How did you feel when your colleagues came to you and were like, this is the winner. And you read that. What went through your mind?  

RW: HORROR, because I knew I would have to go on radio and television and tell that joke as the world's funniest joke. And I knew it wasn't funny. And it was just, we must have done 50 interviews that year, when that came out, I think each time you sort of grind — it's a long joke as well. It's not a short joke. You grind through this joke knowing it's not funny. Having just told everyone that you’ve found the world's funniest joke — it was living hell. After a while, I just refused to tell it.

But what's funny is that, like, even though it didn't make me laugh and Richard doesn't really like it. When you look at the scientific theories of humour, this hunter joke actually ticks a lot of boxes…  So let's take a look at these scientific theories of humour[38]

LN Ok great!! Great

Scientific Theories of Humour (lol)

So one of the big theories of humor is that you need a surprise…something perhaps incongruous[39] [40] [41]…  So here's comedian Loni Love on this…

LL It’s something that you didn't expect. That's what makes you laugh, because your mind is thinking one way and you go a whole 'nother corner or avenue. That is what makes people laugh. And that's the science of the joke.

So Richard gave me an example of this … which I actually quite like as a joke...

RW Two fish in a tank. One turns to the other and says, do you know how to drive this?

LN Love it, love it.

RW So we have fish in a tank. We think it's a fish tank. And then we find out they're an army tank. That's incongruous. It surprises us. We laugh.  

So one paper called this "conceptual bifurcation" [42] – which is that moment where you realise that something that you thought belonged to just one category… a tank is only something fish would hang out in… actually belongs to two categories. An army tank too! Haha! So the hunter joke obviously has this as well … the moment you realise "First, let's make certain he's dead."  – actually had two meanings… and then it’s a funny surprise.

LN Right. that's a funny joke. Also, conceptual bifurcation. I feel like both of those words would rank very low on your spreadsheet

WZ Hahahah – yeah…  

LN Very unfunny. That's like the un-funniest phrase you could find to describe a joke.  

WZ Yeah, it's like barely above harassment

LN Right Yeah. Yeah, completely

Studies have actually put people into brain scanners, presented them with jokes and found that certain areas associated with language get really excited when we hear these kinds of jokes[43]...  which makes a lot of sense because there's a lot of brain work involved in putting those two concepts together for that beautiful a-ha moment!  

LN Right right

Adam Conover, of most famously Adam Ruins Everything, also in standup —

LN So great —

WZ — says surprise can come in different forms… it doesn't have to be that you were expecting a joke to go in one direction and then it goes somewhere else… it could be that someone explains something in a way that you never thought of before…

AC My own personal theory that I use to write jokes is that something is funny with a truth is combined with a surprise, when people have a shock of recognition that they did not expect. So, you know, the very classic joke is, you know, a piece of observational comedy. You know, have you ever noticed that airplane food is X, whatever it is, right? And if you have in fact noticed that, but no one has ever said that to you before, then you will likely laugh, right?

WZ But surprise can't explain everything about comedy … because things can be surprising and NOT Funny at all … and on the flip side..  research has found – that even when there is no surprise[44] [45], like in some studies,  people have been told the joke before[46]…  or even if they’re asked — can you predict the punchline of the joke, people still find it funny – and sometimes even funnier[47]…  And I told Tig Notaro the hunter joke… it was kinda funny - cos this was her reaction to it…

TN Haha … Saw it coming. Still found it amusing.  

LN Oh yeah!!

So if there's more to a zinger than surprise… what else have we got? Superiority theory[48]

LN mhmm, yep

Here's Richard on that

RW A laugh is a kind of cry of superiority You made somebody else look silly or put them down and that you're going, yes, I'm better than them[49].

LN That's so depressing actually!! That's like a very depressing —

WZ: it is a depressing… and It does explain some jokes because, like in in so many cultures, there are these jokes about, what some researchers call like the fool towns[50][51] or fool placesso in Australia…if you start a joke with, like, two Tasmanians walk into a bar …

LN Got it - in like Canada It's new Newfoundlanders.

WZ Yeah right. So in the UK, maybe they make fun of the Irish, in Ireland maybe they make fun of the Kerryman[52]; in France the Belgians… and it goes beyond time. So I was reading about this paper that said in ancient Greece, it was Abdera[53], the town of Abdera yknow …

LN Of course, Abdera

WZ Two Abderans walk into a bar..

LN Yeah, sure, right

WZ And when it comes to the hunter joke … you could argue that we feel superior to the stupid hunter[54]. 

LN It just does make us feel so petty. Like we're just, like, so petty and insecure. Like we need something to feel bigger than

WZ Yeah, I really don't think that's why I'm laughing at a lot of jokes. And it has been criticized a little bit recently[55].

LN I mean, I'm not saying I'm not petty and insecure… um, but I like to think there's more to me than that.

WZ I think so too.. So then this last scientific theory of humor I want to walk through just quickly[56] is that a lot of humor is triggered by potentially threatening or bad situations.[57] And then we laugh to release tension[58]So the hunter joke ticks that off

LN Yeah it’s like oh.. there's this little bubble of tension here.. Pop it! Ok great. We're good, we're good, right?

And even though there's not a lot of studies testing this theory of humor – Richard says from just reading thousands of jokes in his experiment… it seemed to sort of be at the heart of why a lot of them were funny…

RW It's not chance that a lot of jokes involve people experiencing stuff that makes us worried.

LN Yeah

Right, and as an interesting tidbit - is that recently researchers have added to this… saying that you can't just have tension…  or what they call a violation… they say you ultimately need to feel safe… So the violation in a joke has to be benign. It’s called the benign violation theory[59]..  – Think of the classic Funniest Home Videos show when someone falls on their face … that’s like a violation. It's a bit dangerous… but then it's safe.. the person got up in the end. Was fine. And for some reason sent their snafu to a 90s TV channel.

LN Right ..

WZ But if they didn't get up and they just like … were dead…

LN Yeah right, that's not funny, we're not laughing at that anymore

Why the winning joke isn't funny

So to go back to the Hunter joke, for a section, even though it ticks these scientific boxes…like we talked it's not funny… I dunno.. not to me… it can’t be the FUNNIEST

LN No it's not the funniest…

And so I asked Richard like like his experiment. You know, he did the right thing. They got the sample size. They asked people, you know, many countries around the world like, so what went wrong? And here’s what he said

RW: It was the joke that most people didn't hate. It's so you can look at any one group. You can look at men or women or young or old or Canadians. And there's always a joke that they thought was much, much funnier. But when you pulled the data, you got the average. And that's the average. It's the average joke. It's the kind of like. Yes. Right.  

WZ No, I think I think what I've learned from talking to you —

RW: — Nothing, you’ve learnt nothing haha. 

WZ Is that. Yeah. Where you went wrong was asking thousands and thousands of people for their opinion. That’s…

RW: Where we went wrong was starting.That - was all downhill from there…

Ok, so Richard has completely lost hope in our quest, in finding the funniest joke in the world!

LN Right, I feel like there was three of us, and now there's just two of us. He just turned and left

WZ But I say, I say there is hope. I say there is hope, I think it was getting this median, like getting this democratic voting system going, I think that’s  where he went wrong. And so I think if, if we instead of going to the voting polls, we go granular, we use the techniques that we've learned today, the funny words, the sounds, the different theories of humor … so I have scoured joke books and listicles and social media, and I've gone to comedy sets, hours of comedy and hunting for jokes that might fit the bill …

LN You've done a lot of research here Wendy, I'm very impressed,

WZ Oh yeah

So two jokes in my search that I thought do tick a lot of these boxes and I did actually find funny…

How do you stop a dog from humping your leg?


WZ OK so, Latif. Could this be the winner to our competition? Could this be the funniest joke in the world?

LN Okay.  All right.

WZ So. How do you stop a dog from humping your leg?

LN I dunno how??

WZ Pick him up and suck his cock.

LN That was. That was good. Because it was. It was. That was. Yeah. That was not where I expected you were going to go, but it was funny.

WZ It's got that comedy K – suck… cock

LN Cock. Suck, cock yeah that's right…

WZ Rude words…  Incongruity… surprise … bit of tension It did pretty good with the comics!! It beat out the hunter joke that’s for sure…

LN Really??  

WZ Pick him up and suck his cock

JL  Hahahaha! I say I'm so sorry. No. That's funny. See, that's funny to me. And I feel bad now

PG I think it's more relatable…

WZ hahaha …. Go on …..

PG I think dogs humping is a problem, don't you think? it's just impolite, people, people are…

WZ Are desperate for a solution…

PG I think they are desperate for a solution, and so you do, you wrack your brain, as soon as someone says how do you stop a dog from humping your leg… ? and then to go to pick him up and suck his cock, that's crazy, y’know, when that image lands.. It’s like WHOA …

MM Hahahahaha! Brilliant. Yeah, that was very funny.

UA oh my God. aargh. aargh. I love it. It's disgusting. It's a dog. Leave it alone!! But it's so funny because I think it has something to do with you saying it, because I know you would never. I just

WZ  thank you. I love that's the vibe I give that I won't suck off a dog.


WZ Do you think would it translate around the world? Would it translate in India?

UA Oh my God, they would love it. Oh my God, would they love this joke! In the right hands. This joke could be viral.  

LN That's a billion people right there.

WZ Right? So I guess maybe science is getting us close?! But I thought, like, you didn't love it, you didn't love it??

LN But I'm like a, I'm a, I'm a polite Canadian. I grew up in a quite religious household. Sex jokes are very like like I'm like, oh okay. Yeah. Like that was funny, but.  

WZ So let's let's take it down a notch…  I think I, I don't think the funniest joke also, you know, there's kids listening … probably not anymore.

LN That's right.

WZ But there were kids listening.

LN right

OK… so I’ve got another joke for you … which I've adapted a little for our purposes.. I think you'll see

So in this neighborhood in Mumbai called Chinchpokli,...  two monkeys were having a bath. One monkey says oooh oooh ooh!  And the other says, oof well, put the cold tap on then.

LN Oh. That one. Well, that one was not funny. I don't know why. Because it had Chinchpokli in it,and everything. Monkeys.. Monkeys have a k… that's funny

WZ Monkeys, ooo ooo ooo … there's conceptual bifurcation… y

LN There was a conceptional bifurcation.. Yeah I don't know why it didn't…

WZ It didn’t land. Interesting, Ok so this is what the comics thought of the monkey joke…

TN That's good. That's good. Okay.

JL hhaha It's better than the hunter joke…

PG That's wholesome!

UA I really like this one. I like it better. It's so funny.

LN Huh… yeah wow..
WZ oh OK…

LN I'm sorry… that doesn’t hit for me

Meet the Comedy Gods

And it's here… at the final stage of our quest…

LN Right. And was that your. Is that that was that was that was your touchdown dance

WZ I feel like we're weary our clothes are torn… shoes worn through the soles

LN yeah, yeah…

And it's here where we’ve lost all hope perhaps, that our journey takes a different path…

LN Here in Chinchpokli we're going to cognitively bifurcate paths

That's right!!  The sun is rising and we squint at a bright light, as Urooj appears…So Urooj used to study psychology before her comedy career took off.. and when she first started doing stand up … she actually read all the theories on humor…

UA Incongruity. Surprise. Misdirection. 

WZ: You, like, looked into the psychology of it, you, like, tried to study this like a science.  

UA Exactly. And then at some point, I was like, none of it is real. It's the comedy gods

WZ: Really?  It's the comedy gods.

UA I'm sorry, I know I'm on a science podcast, but I strongly believe in the comedy gods. Just. I've. I was an atheist and a scientist, and I'm a believer, now. I just went on so many stages all across India. I performed in cafes, I performed in bars, I performed for corporate shows, I did birthday parties, I did baby showers, I did comedy clubs. and I was like, there is a force — there is a superior force. And there is a moment and magic happens. And, I'm so sorry to defy. I'm so sorry to defy this entire podcast's purpose.

So, Latif I abandoned science too…. and went to the comedy gods for the funniest joke… and I said… what can I do?? I've got this episode called the funniest joke in the world - what can I do? And they told me… that I'll fulfill my.. our quest…our quest…  if we can each find our own favourite jokes….  a joke to put a smile on our faces when we're feeling down… a joke so that we don't ever have to have use Google and find some crappy joke about pianos and keys… … And to our audience…   maybe we’ve already found yours… maybe it's the dog humping joke … or the monkey… or the fish in the tank … so Latif have I found yours???  

LN I don't know….

Cos I got a couple more for you…

LN Yeah keep going…

WZ Just a couple more…

LN Great great…

WZ Professor Richard Wiseman…

LN What was his favorite joke? Yes. Yeah.

Yes. Okay, this was it.

LN Desperate to hear that the.

RW The elephant and the mouse, and the elephant says to the mouse, why am I so big and strong, and you're so weak and puny? And the mouse looks up and says, well, I've been ill, haven’t I? But I like I always like that. It kind of makes me, makes me smile

LN Hahhaha! That's good!!

And finally finally — Takashi Wakasugi, who was one of the most critical of this idea that we could find the funniest joke in the world… toward the end of our chat gave me this gem … and what made him think of it was when he was really puzzling over something that could make everyone laugh..

TW it’s gonna be a fart… .

WZ It’s gonna be a fart?


WZ And what kind of fart? Like a big one? [fart noises]

TW Any fart! I have a fart joke…

WZ Hit me with it -

TW I was watching a movie by myself, on the couch, and I did a fart, and it was a bad fart. Wetty fart

WZ A wet one?

TW Actually I shit myself, and life is very tough, right? It's not easy. And and that I think I have to throw away my underwear. I have to take a shower. I hate myself. I went to the bathroom, tried to take off my clothing, and I saw my underwear was clean. I shit myself a little bit, but my underwear is clean. And that’s the first time in my life I discover, like, why our human butt

WZ Yeah

TW Shape, right is like a W in alphabet

WZ Right?  

TW There's a small space.

WZ I'm crying cos I'm laughing so hard

TW I call it hope …. That small space is going to save you, and your underwear from shitting yourself. The next time you shit yourself, please don't give up, because there is always hope there. And it's very heartwarming. 

WZ Hahahahhaha

WZ All right, so Latif, of all of the jokes that you've heard today, have we found your favorite?

LN I'm very happy with take your face. I still think that one is pretty…  good. I'm going to take out the garbage. Take your face.

WZ The answer was hiding within us. All along. 

LN Yeah. We found your joke! We fulfilled our quest.  What about you? What's your. What's your funniest joke?

WZ The hope

LN Hope is great.

WZ Hope is great. That was great.

LN I've definitely found a lot of jokes to put a smile on my face that are not about a piano.  

WZ like if someone were to say — heard any good jokes?

LN Yeah, I'd be like, there's this area in your. In your butt. In your buttock. I would use the buttock because there's a K in it.  

WZ Yes. And it's called hope.

 LN And it's called hope. Yeah.  

WZ Thank you very much. Thank you for coming on the show.  

LN Thank you. I feel lighter. I feel, yeah, I feel I feel great, and I and now, I mean, the kind of news you can use of this is like, I know what to do next time a dog is humping my leg.

WZ Hahahahaha

That's Science Vs



This episode had 58 citations! Check out instagram and Tik Tok this week to see fabulous videos of the comics we spoke to!!


This episode was produced by Wendy Zukerman, with help from Michelle Dang, Joel Werner, Rose Rimler and Meryl Horn. We’re edited by Blythe Terrell. Fact checking by Sarah Baum. Mix and sound design by Bobby Lord. Music written by Peter Leonard, Bumi Hidaka, Emma Munger, So Wylie, and Bobby Lord. Thanks to all the researchers we spoke to including Dr Andrew Farkas, Professor Penny MacDonald, Dr Maggie Prenger and a huge thank you to Professor Chris Westbury for sharing your amazing spreadsheet with me!! Another big thanks to Lindsay Farber, Roland Campos, Lauren LoGiudice, Andrea Jones-Rooy and the other comics at Ha! or Nah!: A Joke Lab; and all the comics that we spoke to and couldn't fit into the episode, we really really appreciate you and your time! Thanks to Ben Milam, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, Stupid Old Studios, Paige Ransbury, the Zukerman Family and Joseph Lavelle Wilson.

Science Vs is a Spotify Studios Original. Listen for free on Spotify or wherever you get your podcasts. Follow us and tap the bell for episode notifications.

I'm Wendy Zukerman — I’ll fact you next time.


[2] Recent affective neuroscience research has yielded the discovery of play- and tickle-induced ultrasonic vocalization patterns ( approximately 50-kHz chirps) in rats may have more than a passing resemblance to primitive human laughter. (Sci Hub)

[3] For example, “Whereas laughter in ancestral African apes became a more prevalent and effective acoustic signal and the predominant vocalization of play, squeaks assumed this role in orangutans.”

[4]  Vocalizations associated with tickling have been described in other apes [5] and in rats [6]. Play vocalizations, which may form evolutionary precursors to laughter, are found in a very wide range of animals, including kea parrots, cows and weasels.

[5] In The Expression of Emotion in Man and Animals, Darwin (1872) was already very interested

in laughter, along with smiling, blushing, and other physical behaviours which exist in other

mammalian species. His observations included the fact that laughter provides pleasure, that in

apes and humans it is related to social relationships (as can be seen from the fact that self-tickling

does not elicit laughter), and that amongst children at play one hears laughter all the time. ..  AND: In short, Dunbar proposes that laughter (laughter-like vocalisation) was available to provide “vocal grooming” which could operate at a distance and with several individuals at once.

[6] However, although a range of behaviourally contagious actions are found across different animals, there is a striking exception. Laughter is highly contagious in humans[...] there are no clear reports of purely contagious laughter in any animals other than humans. (SOURCE)

[7] Most subjects laughed and smiled in response to the first presentation of laughter. (SOURCE)

[8] "Laughter is a decidedly social signal, not an egocentric expression of emotion. In the absence of stimulating media (television, radio or books), people are about 30 times more likely to laugh when they are in a social situation than when they were alone." 

[9] Smiles and laughs, like talking, were performed primarily during social encounters and were often part of verbal and nonverbal conversations.

[10] Half of the jokes were paired with examples of short spontaneous laughs, and the other half were paired with short posed laughs[...] ​​The addition of laughter increased how funny the jokes were perceived to be.

[11] Contagious laughter is a reminder that the behavior of modem, rational humans retains prominent, largely unconscious, and poorly understood vestiges of our distant evolutionary past. This message is easy to share with others. Contagious laughter, whether evoked by a laugh box, by the OKeh laugh record (Demento, 1985).

[12] There was a considerable difference in the appraisal of the Jewish jokes as given by the two groups. In this case averaging the indeliberate and deliberate responses yields the following result: Jews 0.00; Gentiles 0.80. (Sci Hub)

[13]  Insulting ethnic jokes (e.g., “Did you hear about the winner of the Irish beauty contest? Me neither”) are funnier to people who do not care about the disparaged group (e.g., the Irish; La Fave et al., 1976).

[14] The results show almost no correlation between the presence or absence of Christian faith and the degree of humor appreciation. The only notable exceptions are that practicing Christians tend to react less favorably than atheists to the most blasphemous, disparaging kinds of humor, while atheists are somewhat less amused by good-natured religious jokes compared to practicing Christians.  All other joke categories were judged similarly in terms of their perceived funniness by members of the two contrasting religious populations. (Sci Hub)


[16] / / / / 

[17] #62 -

[18] They had two tigers going ‘Gruurrr’, two birds going ‘Cheep’, two mice going ‘Eeek’, two dogs going ‘Woof’, and so on.  


[20] You will rate how you felt while reading each word. There will be approximately 200 words. The rating scale ranges from 1 (humorless = not funny at all) to 5 (humorous = most funny).  (Sci Hub)

[21] The instructions were as follows "At one extreme of the scale, you find the word dull or unfunny; in that case, you should give the word a rating of 1. At the other extreme of the scale, you feel the word is amusing or likely to be associated with humorous thought or language (for example, it is absurd, amusing, hilarious, playful, silly, whimsical, or laughable); in this case, you should give the word a rating of 5

[22] Wriggly Squiffy paper (Out of >40,000 words) 1) Juju ( 350)  2) Orgy (3477)  3) Chauffeur (7858)  4) Holder (You 37828)

Original Humor Norms (Mean)  1) Juju ( 3.656) 2) Orgy (3.281) 3) Chauffeur (2.821) 4) Holder (2.12)

[23]  It appears in 16.7% of those 1,746 funniest words, compared with just 6.7% of the remaining 43,770 words, a disparity that is extremely unlikely to occur by chance.

[24] / 

[25] “Note that, as these examples show, final-y, which we associated above with funniness, can sometimes (though it does  not always) function as a diminutive.”

[26] There are only 10 words in this category that have humor ratings above 2 SD: gaggle, jiggle, tinkle, waddle, wiggle, wriggle, plus two words related to eating (gobble and nibble) and two words related to laughter (giggle and chuckle).

[27]  Less frequent words are judged funnier, r  0.36, p  .001… and also " the more likely it is that a letter or phoneme occurs more often in funny words than in unfunny words, the less probable that letter or phoneme is."

[28] One factor might be that the letters are both rare. Letter k is the fifth least- common letter after j, x, and z, and the similar-sounding q…Our results paint a clear picture of the ideal funny word: it is a short, infrequent word composed of uncommon letters that is likely to include one or more specific letter or phonemes (/u/, consonant le, y, and/or k)," 

[29] 1577 Google Spreadsheet


[31] Google Maps

[32] The superiority theory view of humor as denigration is clearly and strongly represented, by a very large and tightly intercorrelated cluster of insult terms, such as twit, buffoon, nimrod, blockhead, ninny, scoundrel, hussy, douche, windbag, fathead, and dunce, among many others.

[33]  It shows that there is some clear semantic structure among those words, notably a large cluster of words related to humor (e.g., chuckle, smirk, wisecrack, snicker), a cluster of words related to sex (e.g., wank, dick, pecker, fuck) as  well as words related to insults (e.g., honky, sucker, jerk, jackass), and to animals (e.g., cluck, porker, squawk, grackle). We note that this observed coherence may be an effect rather than a cause of funniness, since these k-containing words were specifically selected to be funny

[34] Were collected from individuals (N = 8361) in 28 countries encompassing 21 different languages. (Sci Hub)

[35] For the self-defeating humor style, the highest means were from the samples from Indonesia, Japan, and Malaysia (although the results from Malaysia need to be interpreted with caution due to the low internal consistency value). (Sci Hub)

[36] The present study found more similarities than differences across the countries in terms of ranks of humor style scores, sex differences, correlations with age, and interscale correlations. (Sci Hub)

[37] By the end of the project the project had received 40,000 jokes, and had them rated by more than 350,000 people from 70 countries.

[38] ​​ Reviews of the literature group these theories into three categories: superiority, incongruity, and relief

[39] "It is generally accepted that at the core of all humor there is an element of surprise or incongruity." (Sci Hub)

[40] Reflections on Laughter, which were first printed in The Dublin Journal in 1725. Hutcheson argued that humor was based on ‘‘the perception of an incongruity between something dignified and something mean” (Telfer, 1995, p. 360).

[41] Many theories call surprise “incongruity” to denote an incongruity between what a person observes and what they expected.

[42]  One form involves a conceptual bifurcation (our own term): the realization that a concept that had been seen as belonging to a single category actually belongs to two categories simultaneously.

[43] For the overall humor analysis, which included picture and text studies, we found 17 clusters of activity, with the largest cluster located in the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG). This region contains Broca’s area, which is strongly implicated in language processing (Cantalupo & Hopkins, 2001). The IFG works in concert with the left middle temporal gyrus to foster language comprehension (Wei et al., 2012). (Sci-hub)

[44] Study 1: 

[45] Summarised by the authors "Participants found the video of the pole breaking more humorous than the successful pole vault, even when they were told that the pole would break and, consequently, expected to observe the violation."

[46] Some of the jokes change greatly in value with successive repetitions, one class rising in the relative scale, another class just as decidedly falling, while only about half of the cards approximate their original positions in the later arrangements. (Described in this review "Participants rated approximately one-third of the jokes in the Hollingworth (1911) study funnier after subsequent viewings." )

[47] Pollio and Mers (1974) found similar results in a study in which participants watched videos of stand-up routines by (prescandal) Bill Cosby and Phyllis Diller. The experimenter stopped the video before the comedians delivered the punch lines. Participants then guessed the punch line for each joke. The similarity between the participants’ predictions and the actual punch lines was positively correlated with the funniness of the joke, as rated by a different group of participants.

[48] One of the oldest humor theories suggests that the key ingredient is a feeling of triumph that comes from defeating an adversary (i.e., superiority).

[49] We laugh at the misfortune, stupidity, clumsiness, moral or cultural defect, suddenly revealed in someone else, to whom we instantly and momentarily feel “superior” since we are not, at that moment, unfortunate, stupid, clumsy, morally or culturally defective, and so on.

[50]In Jokes and their Relation to Society, he examined special problems of marginality, such as peoples caught between two culture (Belgium, Bosnia); canniness jokes as evidence in favour of Max Weber's thesis connecting capitalism with the Protestant ethic; fool towns and the transition to regional ethnic jokes; and ethnic jokes about alcohol.

[51] / / 


[53] Laughing Matters: A serious look at humour; Chapter 4, The Irish joke as a social phenomenon, pg45.

[54] The hunters joke contains all three elements – we feel superior to the stupid hunter, realise the incongruity of him misunderstanding the operator and the joke helps us to laugh about our concerns about our own mortality.

[55] In sum, data suggest that superiority is both too narrow and too broad to explain humor appreciation. People can feel superior to others without appreciating humor, just as they can appreciate humor without feeling superior.

[56] Scholars have proposed more than 20 humor theories to try to account for the variability in stimuli, contexts, and audiences that causes something to be perceived as funny.

[57] The violation condition is consistent with theories that suggest that humor requires something potentially negative, such as disparagement (Ferguson & Ford, 2008; Zillman, 1983), maladjustment (McDougall, 1922), the release of repressed, antisocial drives (Freud, 1928), something demeaning (Gruner, 1999), an impression reinterpreted to be less valued (i.e., diminishment; Wyer & Collins, 1992), a perceived threat (Ramachandran, 1998), or something irrational or improper (Morreall, 1983). A violation refers to anything that threatens a person’s sense of how things should be (Veatch, 1998). The most primitive and universal violation is the threat of physical harm.

[58] Relief theories suggest a link between humor appreciation and a reduction in arousal or tension .. Spencer’s (1860) version of relief theory, contends that humor occurs when nervous energy (antecedent 1) is released (antecedent 2) because a person perceives a “descending incongruity” (antecedent 3; i.e., a situation that is less serious, important, or dignified than it initially seemed)

[59] A benign appraisal refers to the subjective perception that something is sensible, acceptable, harmless, or okay. .. conditions that precede humor: (a) something must be appraised as a violation, (b) something must be appraised as benign, and (c) the appraisals must be simultaneously juxtaposed.