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What people of the world find funny

Let’s talk about jokes. Everybody loves jokes. And there are all kinds of jokes. Knock-knock jokes, lawyer jokes, “yo momma” jokes, puns, and limericks involving Nantucket residents. And there are a couple of really smart people over in England at the University of Hertfordshire who wanted to know what the funniest joke in the world was. I don’t blame them. We rank everything, from fashion to college football teams to Italian restaurants. Why not declare a number one joke of all time?

The winning joke was this: 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 the 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 a silence, and then a shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says: “OK, now what?”

I know what you’re thinking. It’s funny, but how can it be the funniest joke of all time? First of all, I should explain how the “world’s funniest joke” came to be. LaughLab, the name of this project, collected jokes from all over the world, and allowed Internet readers to rate the jokes, and give their nationality.

Logically, the funniest joke was the one that was most appealing to all countries. They found out that many countries have their own sense of humor. Americans, for example, enjoyed jokes in which the characters were portrayed as dumb, so that we felt better about ourselves. European countries most liked the jokes that made light of serious situations, such as death. That is why the “world’s funniest joke” is what it is; it has at least one element that almost everyone enjoys.

A different part of their results somewhat surprised me. By keeping track of the joke critics’ nationalities and the ratings they gave, they computed a table of countries that found jokes the funniest, e.g. the countries with the “best” sense of humor. From this data, they said that Germans laugh the most. I don’t blame them; they have two World Wars to laugh off. Canadians laugh the least, because let’s face it: they are the ethnic butt of many jokes.

What about us? Well, in a spectrum of the ten countries whose citizens responded the most, Americans fell into eighth place between Belgium and New Zealand. Eighth place? I expected this sort of performance from our nation’s basketball team, but this is comedy! I thought we loved jokes!

Just maybe that is exactly why other countries liked the jokes better. We’ve heard every good joke and seen every funny movie. Has everything funny been said? Did “Dharma and Greg” and “Not Another Teen Movie” make us realize that it’s all been done?

We do have a pretty high demand for comedy. After all, we’re shouting “Encore!” after watching “Wayne’s World 2” (one of the most underrated sequels, I might add.) That can’t be the reason, because then we would all have strong, healthy senses of humor.

My theory is that our humor as a culture isn’t strictly jokes that you hear by the water cooler. The funniest things in life are situational. If you try to explain to someone about a funny incident, you will most likely have to end it with, “Well, you had to have been there.” For example, if I told you about the time I tried to get my keys out of my pocket and they immediately slipped out of my hand and into the nearby trash can, you’re probably not laughing as hard as the people who saw it initially.

There could be several reasons for LaughLab concluding that Americans have a below average sense of humor. Maybe several Americans aren’t ready to laugh heartily from the gut after September 11th. Maybe we just don’t laugh at jokes from the Internet anymore, because some annoying friend is always forwarding them to us. Most likely, however, we find humor in the subtleties of life instead of the blatancy of blonde jokes. The LaughLab results are still pretty interesting, though.

If you want to read more about their results, visit the website: http://www.laughlab.co.uk/.

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