I was going to begin a story on taxation and the 2007 Irish general election with a joke from research that was published as part of the largest study of humour ever undertaken.
I decided that the full story on the research merited attention.
In the 12 months leading up to publication of the research in 2002, people around the world were invited to judge jokes on an internet site as well as contribute quips of their own.
The LaughLab experiment conducted by psychologist Dr Richard Wiseman, from the University of Hertfordshire, attracted more than 40,000 jokes and almost two million votes.And the joke which received the highest global rating - submitted by 31-year-old psychiatrist Gurpal Gosall from Manchester - was:
"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?’"
Dr Wiseman said the joke was interesting because it worked across many different countries and appealed to men and women and young and old alike.
"Many of the jokes submitted received higher ratings from certain groups of people, but this one had real universal appeal.
"Also, we find jokes funny for lots of different reasons. They sometimes make us feel superior to others, reduce the emotional impact of anxiety-provoking situations or surprise us because of some kind of incongruity. The hunters joke contained all three elements."
The experiment also revealed wide humour differences between nations.
One intriguing result was Germans - not renowned for their sense of humour - found just about everything funny. They did not express a strong preference for any type of joke.
People from Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand most enjoyed jokes with word plays, such as this one. Patient: "Doctor, I’ve got a strawberry stuck up my bum." Doctor: "I’ve got some cream for that!"
Americans and Canadians preferred jokes where there was a strong sense of superiority - either because a character looks stupid or is made to look stupid.This was an example of American humour.
Texan: "Where are you from?"
Harvard graduate: "I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with prepositions."
Texan: "OK, where are you from, jackass?"Many European countries, such as France, Denmark and Belgium
, liked surreal humour.
Here is an example: An Alsatian went to a telegram office, took out a blank form and wrote: "Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof."
The clerk examined the paper and politely told the dog: "There are only nine words here. You could send another Woof for the same price."
"But," the dog replied, "that would make no sense at all."
Europeans also enjoyed jokes that made light of serious topics such as death, illness and marriage.
Dr Wiseman said: "These results are really interesting. It suggests that people from different parts of the world have fundamentally different senses of humour."
Computer analysis of the data also showed that jokes containing 103 words were thought to be especially funny. The winning "hunters" joke was 102 words long.
Many jokes contained references to animals. Jokes mentioning ducks were seen as funnier than other jokes.
Top Jokes in different countries
Here are some of the top jokes in different countries:Top joke in UK
A woman gets on a bus with her baby.
The bus driver says: “That's the ugliest baby that I've ever seen. Ugh!”
The woman goes to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming.
She says to a man next to her: “The driver just insulted me!”
The man says: “You go right up there and tell him off – go ahead, I'll hold your monkey for you.”Top joke in USA
The American data proved to be somewhat strange.
Dave Barry is a well known humourist whose columns are syndicated in many American newspapers.
In January 2002 he kindly devoted an entire column to LaughLab.
At the end of the column he urged readers to submit jokes that simply ended with the punch line:
‘There's a weasel chomping on my privates.’
Within just a few days we had received over 1500 ‘weasel chomping’ jokes.
One weasel joke scored very highly in the USA and almost became the funniest joke in America.
Here it is: At the parade, the Colonel noticed something unusual going on and asked the Major:
“Major Barry, what the devil's wrong with Sergeant 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.”
However, ignoring the weasels, the top American joke was…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.”Top joke in Canada
When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity.
To combat the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion to develop a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300 C.
The Russians used a pencil.Top joke in Australia
This woman rushed to see her doctor, looking very much worried and all strung out. She rattles off:
“Doctor, take a look at me. When I woke up this morning, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw my hair all wiry and frazzled up, my skin was all wrinkled and pasty, my eyes were bloodshot and bugging out, and I had this corpse-like look on my face! What's WRONG with me, Doctor!?”
The doctor looks her over for a couple of minutes, then calmly says:
“Well, I can tell you that there ain't nothing wrong with your eyesight....”Top joke in Belgium
Why do ducks have webbed feet?
To stamp out fires.
Why do elephants have flat feet?
To stamp out burning ducks.Top joke in Germany
A general noticed one of his soldiers behaving oddly.
The soldier would pick up any piece of paper he found, frown and say: “That's not it” and put it down again.
This went on for some time, until the general arranged to have the soldier psychologically tested.
The psychologist concluded that the soldier was deranged, and wrote out his discharge from the army.
The soldier picked it up, smiled and said: “That's it.”