A new joke that works can lift the rest of your set. Some people say it’s better than sex. It's not. But both at the same time would be awesome … and awkward.
If the gags don’t work there’s always ‘Canned Laughter’. The use of this on American sitcoms and cartoons like Scooby Doo and The Flintstones is an art.
The inventor of canned laughter was Charles Rolland Douglass, a broadcast engineer at CBS. The machine he used was called ‘The Laff Box’. The machine was built like a keyboard, with each key connected to a separate tape loop of laughter, and he would play the laughter like a music piece as he heard every punchline on the show. At the bottom was a pedal that would either increase the volume or fade it out. Reportedly, the earliest laughter samples used for the Laff Box came from a Marcel Marceau performance in Los Angeles in 1955.
A screenwriter once asked Charlie Chaplin for advice on how to design a gag in which a fat lady is walking down the street, slipping on a banana peel and falling down. Should he first show the banana peel, then the lady approaching, and then the fall? Or, to show the fat lady first, and then the banana peel on which she slips? Charlie Chaplin immediately replied: ‘You show the fat lady approaching; then you show the banana peel; then you show the fat lady and the banana peel together; then she steps OVER the banana peel and disappears down a manhole.’
Less than 20% of conversational laughter is generated by an actual joke or humorous comment.
When Morecambe and Wise said they wrote their own scripts, their scriptwriter sent them 80 blank pages and a note saying ‘Go on, then.’
Could anyone ever design a device to register how funny a joke is? At present, there is no reliable system – especially as individuals all have a slightly different sense of humour. The best way still seems to be ‘try it with an audience and see’.
The script for the Marx Brothers film A Night at the Opera was tested and retested for ‘laugh-worthiness’ in front of paying audiences that packed huge theatres in Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Salt Lake City. Writer Maurie Ryskind recorded audiences’ reactions, timed laughs, analysed groans and reworked the script for the next day’s show.
However, the amount and frequency of laughter is not the only factor that determines how funny we find something. In a survey conducted by Lovefilm, Airplane was found to generate the most laughs – three a minute, to be precise – but users voted Life of Brian, which got 1.2 laughs a minute, as the funniest film ever made.
Leslie Nielsen used to bring a whoopee cushion to Airplane! shoots to set the right tone. His tombstone reads: ‘Let ‘er rip.’
The joke is good if it fits the facts.
Computer scientists in Scotland have invented a joke-writing programme called STANDUP (System to Augment Non-Speakers’ Dialogue Using Puns), that generates punning riddles to help children with language disabilities. At present the jokes it produces are of this standard:
Q: What do you get if you cross an actor with a fragrance?
A: Smell Gibson
In a related experiment, scientists at the University of North Texas, Denton, trained computers to separate humorous one-liners from non-humorous sentences borrowed from newspaper headlines, proverbs and other texts. By analysing the content and style of these sentences, the program was able to spot the jokes with an average accuracy of 87%.
Psychologist Professor Richard Wiseman, in partnership with The British Science Association, ran a year-long project called Laugh Lab to identify the world’s funniest joke using public reaction as gauges. The project attracted attention from the international media, resulting in the website receiving over 40,000 jokes and 1.5 million ratings.
The winning joke was submitted by Gurpal Gosall, a 31 year old psychiatrist from Manchester in the UK:
‘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?”’
I said to the gym instructor 'Can you teach me to do the splits?' He said, 'How flexible are you?' I said, 'I can't make Tuesdays.'
As exercise, laughing one hundred times is equal to ten minutes on a rowing machine or fifteen minutes on an exercise bike.
In Ancient Rome there was a special fool market, akin to the slave market, where you could buy jesters and fools.
The Laughing Clubs of Mumbai are groups of keep-fit enthusiasts who meet in parks in order to get the day off to a good start with a laugh.
On average, the person speaking will laugh 46% more than his/her audience.