Dad jokes are funny, especially if someone else laughs first

Dad jokes make people groan and cringe, but they aren’t actually that bad. People have different sense of humour and just because you don’t find something funny, it doesn’t mean that it is actually a poorly constructed joke. Now a new UCL-led study found that canned or real laughter after a punchline makes jokes funnier.

Genuine spontaneous laughter makes all jokes funnier. Image credit: Shameless Charlotte via Wikimedia (CC BY 2.0)

Scientists took 40 groan worthy ‘dad jokes’ and recorded them twice – once with canned laughter after the punchline and once without it. Jokes were tested in two groups of neurotypical and autistic people. The reason why autistic people have been chosen to participate in this study is a fact that laughter may be processed differently in autism. For example, children with autism seem to be immune to laughter tracks, often used to enhance jokes in cartoons. This makes it very interesting to see how laughter is understood by people with different conditions and what makes jokes funny.

Scientists found that canned laughter after a joke instantly makes it funnier, even if the joke isn’t that great. However, genuine and spontaneous laughter makes it even funnier. There was no difference between neurotypical and autistic people in terms of  reaction to humour and laughter – both groups rated jokes as funnier if they were followed by spontaneous real laughter. However, autistic people rated all 40 jokes as funnier when laughter was added when neurotypical people were more picky. This was probably because of their conscious understanding of a social norm that “dad jokes aren’t cool”.

Professor Sophie Scott, lead author of the study, said: “This research shows that while canned laughter does elevate the humour of a comedy, adding real laughter would get a better response. This has been adopted in shows like Friends, which are recorded in front of an audience, with the real laughter amplified during editing for particular jokes that had been well received”.

What state has the smallest drinks? Mini-soda! This is hilarious – that joke was actually used in the study. The joke is funnier is someone else is laughing first and it is actually completely understandable. Humans are social animals and we shape our reactions by looking at others. And laughter itself is always funny. But what are the implications of this study?

Well, creators of comedy shows should take even more inspiration from shows like Friends, which incorporated real genuine audience reactions. Comedians should focus on making each and every person laugh individually, because laughter will spread like wildfire if you do it correctly. Finally, scientists can use this as basis for future research into humour and how we shape our reactions by looking at people surrounding us.


Source: UCL


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