Jokes – it’s the way they tell ‘em

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Friday 06 May 2011

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This is the finding of Dr Andy Johnson and Kam Mistry from Coventry University, who present their findings at the British Psychological Society’s Annual Conference today, Friday 6 May, in Glasgow.

The research examined whether our evaluation of a joke is influenced by who the joke teller is and whether we expect them to be funny.

Over four experiments, 430 participants were split into two groups and given a series of jokes to rate (e.g. ‘How do you make a door laugh? Tickle its knob.’). The first group were told that the jokes came from a number of well known comedians (e.g. Jimmy Carr) and the second group were told that they came from a celebrity who wasn’t a comedian (e.g. Jamie Oliver).

The results showed that the group who believed it was a joke from a comedian rated the joke much higher than the other group (even though the jokes were identical). In addition, effects were found to be stronger depending on the type of joke. These effects, however, were not caused by how much people liked the celebrities.

In a subsequent experiment the two groups were given another joke where the name of the well-known comedian or celebrity was blacked out (e.g. ‘In a recent television panel show, celebrity Jamie Oliver said…’). This time there was no difference in how they funny they rated the joke.

Dr Johnson explained:

We have all heard the catch phrase ‘”It’s the way I tell ‘em” and this research suggests that there is some truth in this. We argue that using the name of someone who people consider funny generates an expectancy of humour when hearing a joke. This predisposes people to find the joke funnier than if they heard it from another non-comedic source.