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The Humor Code

A Global Search For What Makes Things Funny

By Peter McGraw and Joel Warner
13-minute read
The Humor Code: A Global Search For What Makes Things Funny by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner

This book is all about humor. It explores theories on why certain things are funny and why humor is so important. It also describes how humor is different across different cultures, and why you should always be careful to use humor appropriately.

  • Anyone interested in understanding why we joke and laugh
  • Anyone hoping to become funnier

Peter McGraw is a professor at the University of Colorado, and the director of the Humor Research Lab. Joel Warner is a journalist who’s been featured in the Boston Globe. For this book, the authors travelled the world together to understand what makes things funny across the globe.

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The Humor Code

A Global Search For What Makes Things Funny

By Peter McGraw and Joel Warner
  • Read in 13 minutes
  • Contains 8 key ideas
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The Humor Code: A Global Search For What Makes Things Funny by Peter McGraw and Joel Warner
Synopsis

This book is all about humor. It explores theories on why certain things are funny and why humor is so important. It also describes how humor is different across different cultures, and why you should always be careful to use humor appropriately.

Key idea 1 of 8

Laughter is a communication tool, for expressing safety or stress.

What do you do when you think something is funny? You laugh, of course! But why do our bodies respond this way? What purpose does it serve?

Well, laughter evolved partly as a way to let others know that everything is fine. Imagine one of our ancient ancestors casually passing by a bush. He hears something rustling inside it and panics, thinking a tiger might pop out. But just then, a small bird comes hopping out instead.

Our ancestor probably would've laughed in response to this. Doing so would have relieved his stress and signaled to others around him that there was no danger.

Although we aren't often in situations like this today, we still use laughter to relieve our stress and let others know that we're okay.

There's also another, less obvious reason for laughter. It can sometimes be a sign of stress or strain. This kind of laughter is called hysteria.

In 1962, for example, a strange illness started to spread in Tanzania. It was characterized by uncontrollable laughter. It affected mostly young school girls, who would start laughing and be unable to stop. Some of them had to cope with it for hours, or even days.

There still isn't a clear explanation for what exactly happened to the girls, but it's generally thought that their laughter was a way for them to respond to their life situation. Many of them had just started boarding school and they weren't used to having strict rules. Even though the children weren't consciously deciding to laugh, their bodies coped with their discomfort that way.

Overall, laughter is a communication tool. In situations where we can't or don't want to use words, we can laugh to let others know how we feel.

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