Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Tickle Me, Elmo

When the day comes, long after we humans succeed in wiping each other off the face of the Earth, and the aliens finally come, I hope they find a land filled with Tickle Me Elmos, laughing uproariously, slapping their thighs, falling over. At least we will have accomplished something.

I leave the deep thinking about how our brains work and what are the evolutionary reasons for why we do the things we do to my smarter friends, like current roommate EZ or PK. Existential questions that I just haven't got the chops to tackle. So I don't have too many comments on this article, although it is worth a read. First my comments, then excerpts of key phrases that I found amusing or charming, if not poignant:

Examinations of the question "Why is something funny?" are invariably unfunny, tiresome, and tend to belie the author's lack of a sense of humor and general failing to get the point. The quick pivot in the focus of this article from humor to laughter made for a more engaging read, and bolstered my confidence that the underlying science might be on to something, instead of nothing.

Isn't it incredibly difficult to study humor, given that most people don't have any idea what's funny, and even fewer are actually funny? Isn't trying to understand why a person getting hit in the crotch is "funny" just as misguided as trying to prove that dinosaurs roamed the Earth sometime between the Flood and modern times? Not that the article broaches either topic.

Thank goodness we're more like chimpanzees than lizards. Imagined how horrible the world would be if we were more like lizards...

Key passages:
"a British research group who claimed they had determined the world’s funniest joke. Despite the fact that the researchers sampled a massive international audience in making this judgment, the winning joke revolved around New Jersey residents: 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 service. He gasps to the operator: “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says: “Take it easy. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is silence, then a shot is heard. The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says, 'OK, now what?'"

"Speakers, it turned out, were 46 percent more likely to laugh than listeners—and what they were laughing at, more often than not, wasn’t remotely funny."

"At one point Provine stops two waste-disposal workers driving a golf cart loaded up with trash bags. When they fail to guffaw on cue, Provine asks them why they can’t muster up a chuckle. “Because you’re not funny,” one of them says. Then they turn to each other and share a hearty laugh."

"The limits of our voluntary power over laughter are most clearly exposed in studies of stroke victims who suffer from a disturbing condition, known as central facial paralysis, that prevents them from voluntarily moving either the left or right side of their face, depending on the location of the neurological damage. When these individuals are asked to smile or laugh on command, they produce lopsided grins: One side of the mouth curls up, the other remains frozen. But when they’re told a joke or they’re tickled, traditional smiles and laughs animate their entire faces."

"According to Fouts, who helped teach sign language to Washoe, perhaps the world’s most famous chimpanzee, the practice is just as common, and perhaps more long-lived, among the chimps. “Tickling . . . seems to be very important to chimpanzees because it continues throughout their lives,” he says. Even at the age of 41, Washoe still enjoys tickling and being tickled. Among young chimpanzees who have been taught sign language, tickling is a frequent topic of conversation."
Which, of course, begs a final question: what are other frequent topics of conversation among chimpanzees? And shouldn't this knowledge be widely known? Perhaps in place of Lindsay Lohan mugshots?

Read the article.


karsten said...

If that guy thinks he's isolated the world's funniest joke he must have been working with a very small sample of jokes.
In the Ricky Gervais interview with Gary Shandling, Shandling tells a joke: A lion's fucking a zebra, and another zebra comes over the hill. The first zebra says to the lion: that's my wife--pretend you're killing me.

Ritik Dholakia said...

My take on it is this: at least the hunting joke is funny. But your Gervais joke is definitely funnier. I haven't seen all of Animals yet, but the clips I've seen on YouTube are great. Gervais is probably the funniest person alive.

karsten said...

Yeah you should look at his interviews with Larry David, Gary Shandling & Christopher Guest. Also next time you're in a free country you can just illegally download all of Animals. And he had a series of podcasts on youtube.