On Humor

I picked up some postcards the other day to send to family back in the States, but instead of the “Wish you were here” variety, I bought cards from the humorous section. Well, the Swiss-French believe they are humorous. What do you think? Here is one:

“Grandfather, grandmother and Scout the dog on vacation in the Alps.”

That’s some gentle comedy, as one of my favorite comediennes would say. And very Swiss.

The gondola is a large part of the Swiss lifestyle. It is used as a means of daily transportation outside of skiing, since many Alpine towns are not accessible by car (like Wengen and Mürren). Using something that is so a part of the Swiss landscape in a Swiss joke works for the audience, but maybe not for an American one. Which got me thinking about universal humor…

the brave sentinel
“In the Swiss fantasy world — The brave sentinel guards the Federal Cheese Reserve.”

According to a U.K. study analyzing almost two million joke ratings from around the world, this is the most universally funny joke:

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?”

The study’s lead researcher Dr. Richard Wiseman explains “[jokes] 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 French-Swiss border (on Lake Geneva).
“The French-Swiss border” (on Lake Geneva–since part of the lake belongs to France!).

I don’t think the hunters joke is that funny, but apparently I’m hardwired as an American to laugh at different kinds of jokes. More results from the study:

  • Germans found almost all jokes funny (who would have thought?!);
  • Those from the U.K., Ireland, Australia and New Zealand found jokes with word play funniest;
  • Those from France, Denmark and Belgium found off-beat, surreal jokes funniest; and
  • Americans and Canadians found jokes with a “strong sense of superiority” funniest.

According to the study, a good example of a joke an American would like is:

Texan: “Where are you from?”

Harvard grad: “I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with prepositions.”

Texan: “OK, where are you from, Jackass?”

A little brassy, but I have to say it made me laugh.

“People from different parts of the world have fundamentally different senses of humor,” Wiseman says. “Humour is vital to communication and the more we understand about how people’s culture and background affect their sense of humour, the more we will be able to communicate effectively.” Maybe humor is the key to world diplomacy? I’m intrigued.

I hope you are enjoying the lighter things in life this week…but for now, a few links:


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