Rav Winston sent me a link to a fantastic New York Times article: What’s So Funny? Well, Maybe Nothing. The article covers ongoing research at University of Maryland, Washington State University, and Florida State in which scientists are attempting to figure out why we laugh. In the Florida State research, subjects were presented with the following joke under different scenarios:
So there are these two muffins baking in an oven. One of them yells, â€œWow, itâ€™s hot in here!â€ And the other muffin replies: â€œHoly cow! A talking muffin!â€
Tests showed that subjects laughed at the joke more often when it was told to them by someone playing their superior, like a boss, or an equal, like a coworker. When the joke was told by a subordinate like an employee, they laughed less or not at all. This happened even when the joke teller was on a video and thus unable to guage the subject’s reaction.
On the Skeptics’ Guide to the Universe, we talked a bit about the scientific quest to identify the World’s Funniest Joke with Richard Wiseman at TAM5, which you can listen to here. Now that Wiseman’s team has pinpointed what we find funny, and this new research tells us when we find it funny, we are very close to achieving some sort of funny nirvana.
The NY Times journalist makes it clear that he thinks the muffin joke just isn’t funny. Obviously, I beg to differ. As written, it’s awful, but so much can change with a slight retooling — I’d first ditch the idea of having the first muffin yell. Much funnier if the muffin is just mildly uncomfortable: “Pretty hot in here, eh?” (Perhaps the muffin is Candian.) This makes the second muffin’s response more jarring. Then, I’d definitely drop “Holy cow” in favor of profanity. “Holy shit” is much, much funnier. A muffin saying “holy cow” is on Blue’s Clues. A muffin cursing is ready for prime time.
Finally, I would, of course, tell the joke aloud. With the right timing, I sincerely believe that this joke is a winner — right up there with the bear in the bar (told on a recent podcast) and Snoop Dogg’s umbrella. I’m going to try telling the joke around the office to coworkers and bosses, and I’ll let you know who laughs. If anyone else is brave enough, give it a go and report back!