‘It’s the way I tell ’em’
Do you ever wonder why repeating a famous joke never gets the same laughs? It is not how you tell them but who tells them that matters, a study has shown. Researchers have found that how funny people perceive a gag to be depends on the person who is telling it, not the quality of the material.
If the teller is known to be a famous comedian the audience is more likely to laugh, no matter how bad the joke is, they said. Alternatively, the best joke in the world told by someone not known to be funny could fall flat.
And the gulf between the perception was even wider the more surreal or the sillier the joke.
Dr Andy Johnson and Kam Mistry, psychologists from Coventry University, came up with the experiment after a friend complained that he did not think he got the credit he deserved for his jokes.
Over four experiments, 430 participants were split into two groups and given jokes to rate on a scale of 1–100. The jokes included word play and incongruity jokes such as: “A Freudian slip is where you say one thing but mean your mother” and nonsensical and surreal jokes such as: “Why did the monkey fall out of the tree? It was dead”.
The first group were told that the jokes came from a number of well–known comedians, including Jimmy Carr and Frank Skinner, and the second group were told they came from a celebrity who was not a comedian, such as Jamie Oliver and Peter Andre.
On average, people rated the jokes assigned to the comedians as 50 per cent funnier than those attributed to non–comedians, even though the material was identical.
This only occurred if the comedian was known – it was not enough to say the joke came from a comedian rather than a non–comedian.
Dr Johnson said: “We have all heard the catchphrase ‘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.