Sometimes I wonder if academics just have too much time at their hands – but then again, scientific research into what is the funniest joke ever and what makes jokes funny is… well, funny.

It turns out that Dr. Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire, in collaboration with the British Association for the Advancement of Science did think this was important enough a subject to investigate so they set up the LaughLab to find out exactly what is the funniest joke ever, break them down by country and also analyse exactly what makes for a great joke and even the date and time designated to be funniest moment of the year. So here are some facts to delight you:

  • It turns out that over the length of the one-year experiment Laughlab received over 40,000 jokes and almost 2 million ratings.
  • The LaughLab computer counted the number of words in every joke that people submitted. According to the data, jokes containing one hundred and three words are the funniest. Interestingly, the winning ‘hunters’ joke is 102 words long – almost the perfect length for a joke!             
  • Many of the jokes submitted contained reference to animals. Laughlab found that jokes mentioning ducks were seen as funnier than other jokes. And so it’s official – ducks are the funniest comedy animals. Perhaps it’s because of their beaks, or webbed feet, or odd shape. Regardless, the implication is clear – if you are going to tell a joke involving an animal, make it a duck.
  • Laughlab computers also recorded the date and time that each person from the UK rated the jokes in LaughLab. Careful analysis of the data revealed that people found the jokes  funniest on the 7th October at 6.03 in the evening. Perhaps we have scientifically discovered the funniest moment of the year.
These kinds of ‘facts’ make me a bit weary though, because I’m curious to know who actually submitted the jokes – is it a good cross-section of people and nationalities or are they mainly male, aged 25-34, the average age of the most avid web surfers. I mean, the simple fact that you make a website be the primary interface for submissions means that it actually limits who finds it. a) to people who are confident enough with computers b) to people who are casually surfing the web and thus ‘stumble’ upon a site like this as I suspect it hasn’t been a regular feature of portals like yahoo, msn and the like and if that is the case, the likelihood of you finding it is infinitely smaller c) And even if you did find it, you also have to be of a disposition to want to spend time on it to rate jokes and even more time to submit a joke of your own. Thus the funniest joke ‘in the world’ – is maybe not the funniest joke in the world, but funniest among white male 25-to-34-year-olds? That of course has a slightly sobering effect, in case you don’t find the following joke very funny.. so here goes:


A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head. The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator, in a calm soothing voice says: “Just take it easy. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says: “OK, now what?"             

This winning joke was submitted by Gurpal Gosall, a 31 year old psychiatrist from Manchester in the UK. He told LaughLab that:
"I like the joke as it makes people feel better, because it reminds them that there is always someone out there who is doing something more stupid than themselves."
So why did the hunters joke perform so well? Dr Richard Wiseman, the psychologist behind the LaughLab project, said: "This joke is interesting because it works across many different countries, appeals to men and women, and young and old alike. Many of the jokes submitted received higher ratings from certain groups of people, but this one had real universal appeal. Also, we find jokes funny for lots of different reasons – they sometimes make us feel superior to others, reduce the emotional impact of anxiety-provoking events, or surprise us because of some kind of incongruity. The hunters joke contains all three elements – we feel superior to the stupid hunter, realise the incongruity of him misunderstanding the operator and the joke helps us to laugh about our concerns about our own mortality."