It's a Guy Thing

Having a Laugh!

Discovering the wonder of jokes

By Ian Kirke

Twitter @ianjkirke

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says, “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence; then a gunshot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says, “OK, now what?”

This was ranked as the World’s funniest joke by Richard Wiseman, Professor of Psychology at the University of Hertfordshire, England in 2002 following extensive research. Submitted by Gurpal Gosal it was, in fact, based on a 1951 Goon sketch by the legendary British comedian Spike Milligan. The basis of the academic study sought to determine the gag that had the ability to activate the chuckle muscles across different cultures and territories. In keeping with this academic posture, from this point forward the jokes are mine, unless otherwise referenced!

I love a good laugh although I fully accept that my delivery of a traditional gag lacks the requisite elegant technique that leads to the essential punchline, although I have experienced enough funny stories, generally as a result of my previous life in the police, to entertain and enthrall. Given that I am a crap joke teller I am, even by my own admission a master of the double entendre. That reminds me, I ate beans yesterday and the resultant action has now commenced. A blast from the past if you will. Recently, I had an unforgettable Sunday morning. Lashings of soap, slapping of leather, and four stout chaps from Poland. I can’t stop smiling. An incredible carwash. My woeful attempts to generate a giggle aside, I have nonetheless become fascinated with the mechanics of laughter following the recent arrival of Arthur. My partner’s grandson, now 18-months old, has captivated my heart and my sense of childhood in a delicious cocktail of innocence and unconditional laughter. OK he does cry, can be obstinate and regularly chucks his dinner on the floor and slaps my bald head with karate chop precision, but for the majority of the rest of his waking hours he is a permanent giggle monster!

Arthur Ellis has his moment

For those folks who are blessed with having children, including me, ours are the best especially in terms of character, contentment, and chemistry. Yet, with little Arthur his capacity to maintain a cheery disposition is almost limitless. You may wonder how I can gauge these incredible qualities in one so young? However, the skill of creating laughter, being both objective and subjective, leads me to the conclusion that he is simply the best since he laughs with and at me! As he teeters on the edge of stringing his first words together, generally calling most people ‘Dadda’ and most objects ‘ducks’, I wondered how the mastery of comic humor comes about? What are the early influences and does our birthplace play any significant part in what we perceive as being hilarious? At this golden moment in his development I can only tickle his funny bones by exaggerated stupidity and rude noises, much to the annoyance I’m sure of his Mum. Holding him in my arms and repeatedly pressing the smoke alarm button sends him into a chortle meltdown as does singing awful songs mimicking family members in the car when we are alone. Pushing him over whilst he stands proudly on the bed makes both of us piss our pants (we are both of that certain age)!

Should my childcare qualities be of keen interest please drop me a message via Twitter. For the older generation, I am also available for weddings, funerals, and bar mitzvahs. My desire is to explore this transition from simply laughing at behavior to the grasp of the classic joke.

The play on words that can, if delivered successfully, promote a positive emotional response. In addition, I want to better understand the science behind this wonderful phenomenon that permeates throughout most of my social interactions, interests, desires, and the sense of being human. For instance, being a massive fan of Notts County Football Club (the brunt of many cruel jokes from the rest of the football fraternity) I am reminded that many years ago, I bought a girlfriend a pair of knickers from the club shop with the logo on them. I remember my Dad exclaiming, “They are going down like Notts!” I miss the old man! So, let’s initially look at the psychology behind laughter, before exploring the health benefits and sharing the reminiscences of others who I asked to cast their minds back to the earliest joke they could remember. Adding too, the signature of their birthplace to contrast and compare if where you ultimately popped out to greet the world in anyway shapes your appreciation of the funny side of life. The beauty of humor is that it has stumped even the most eminent of psychologists, neuroscientists, and philosophers.

Several notions exist with some hypotheses having been mooted over time that engages with the tribulations of others and the ability to link with latent emotional concepts. Posting the line, at least I don’t have to wear a mask for Halloween, got some traction on the laughter emojis, and personally I have found self-deprecation to be an important ally, not to be confused with defecation which us Brits seem to reserve the heartiest laughs for. I’ve just had a torrid time with a filthy scrubber (pause) … I really ought not to use a Brillo pad (a trademark metallic scouring pad) more than once, is my attempt to evidence the latter. Another approach synthesizes several explanations concluding that humor is triggered when a person instantaneously grasps that a social norm has been violated yet the resultant tort isn’t that severe. Having lip read my neighbors from across the road via my military-grade binoculars I must say that they have some cheek suggesting that I poke my nose in other people’s business. Evidence, I would suggest, that generally speaking unlawful surveillance isn’t funny. The evolutionary theory of humor proposed by Gil Greengross, an anthropologist at the University of Mexico, is both pragmatic and somewhat bizarre. Firstly, it engages with the notion that it is present in all societies although allegedly some nations are funnier than others. In 2011, a global poll by Badoo.com crowned the United States as the funniest fuckers on the planet with Germany at the bottom. This study tends to support the thoughts of the famous author Mark Twain who, in 1880, advocated that a German joke is no laughing matter.

He was of course American so an element of bias may have been present, albeit humor should rarely be constrained by the truth. For the record, Russia and Turkey were down there too. Secondly, the theory also claimed that humor occurs within the animal kingdom, citing apes and rats as comical companions. Imagine that? What do you call an ape with a banana in one ear and a mango in the other? Anything you want since they can’t hear you. In more contemporary research Matthew M. Hurley of Indiana University, Bloomington and a few of his other clever mates suggested, in the 2011 book, Inside Jokes: Using Humor to Reverse-Engineer the Mind, that wit was the edification of mistakes that would seemingly always have an individual as the butt of the gag. My new motor has gesture control.

When I did the wanker sign to a motorist who cut me up my car actually telephoned me. Using myself as the laughingstock I always hit the bullseye and tend to avoid ridiculing others, especially anyone from Germany, Russia, or Turkey.

Personally, I think us Brits are pretty funny, even more so since we elected a Prime Minister who cannot fathom out how to use a hairbrush and often prefers to crack a funny in Latin. We are creatures of ritual too and talk incessantly about the weather whilst tending our rhododendrons. In fact, I’ve just come in from the garden having trimmed a bush, spotted a pussy, and suffered a prick on my finger having pruned the roses. I am now going to clean my door knockers and mail flaps. This afternoon I will empty the water butt and put some nuts out for the Blue Tits. Only the sexually repressed population of the UK will get this.

The mantra, laughter is the best medicine is pretty damn factual since it has some tangible health benefits including lowering blood pressure, and forming the basis of a technique known as laughter yoga, which I confess I haven’t tried since I’ve been known to follow a good belly laugh with a tad of flatulence, not the most ideal demeanor to exhibit when crossed-legged on the floor with others close. Indeed, my own research into age-related farts concluded the following timeline: 0-18 months: “Do you need a poopie woopie my little soldier?” 18 months – 10 years: “What do you say?” 10 – 30 years: “Respect!” 30 years onwards: “Has something crept up your arse and died?” 55 years onwards: “Nurse!” According to other notable studies laughter can also reduce anxiety, counter depression, bolster the immune system and help you breathe more easily afterward. In the fourteenth century, a French surgeon by the glorious name of Henri de Mondeville used humor to distract patients from the pain of surgery. I recall being asked to bring a stool to my next doctor’s appointment. It got me wondering; how bad a state is our Health Service in when it cannot afford furniture? In 2014 a study published in the International Journal of Obesity showed that laughter can actually burn calories.

Baby Arthur Ellis can’t contain himself

Consequently, when I visit the gym I remain inside the changing room and just look at myself in the mirror. I’ve lost over seven pounds this year. If that disclosure didn’t impress you then maybe the knowledge that laughter increases your intake of oxygen, which stimulates your heart, lungs, and muscles, and increases the release of endorphins that work in a similar fashion to opioids may steer you away from any thoughts of consulting Colin the crackhead instead. Our upbringing, place of birth and those we associate with has a tremendous bearing on our sense of humor. This has been the subject of extensive academic review suggesting for instance that in the West humor is generally a positive experience yet in the East the opposite can be true. In China, for example, Confucianism sought to position humor as a stick of disapproval. However, according to my Dad, Confucius says that a woman who cooks cabbage and peas in the same pot is unhygienic. It took me a few years to get that one! But rather than resorting to the proven track record of academic research I decided to carry out my own impromptu field research, headlined by the recollection of my childhood joke. However, before I launch into my own memory banks I urge you to pause for a moment and recall your own. The pitch I’ve made for the importance of humor in our lives has hopefully reminded you of your personal collection of funnies or, on the other hand reminded you of the scientific and social need to chortle. The not so funny thing is that many respondents simply said that they couldn’t remember.

Memory is a fluid, often subjective mechanism so I cannot guarantee that this was in fact the very first funny that permeated my ears, yet it nonetheless has stayed in my conscience to this day. Delivered by my funny man hero, my Dad: Did you hear about Fred Turd? Changed his name to Joe Turd”. I still bloody chuckle at it now! The absurdity coupled with the inclusion of the lavatorial element made a very English boy laugh out loud! Us Brits love shite! Further up North and across the border into Scotland, Colin was reminded of this playground ditty: “My friend Billy had a 6-foot willy and he showed it to the girl next door. She thought it was a snake and cut it with a rake, and now it’s only 2 foot 4!” To the West and into Wales Steve from Merthyr Tydfil recalled the epic storytelling technique that is characteristic of the classic punchline: “Two boys, one called Bugger Off and the other called Manners were walking through a field. Manners went behind the hedge for a pee. The farmer came along and said to Bugger Off, ‘What’s your name?’ ‘Bugger Off’ came the reply. ‘Where’s your Manners?’ bellowed the farmer. Behind the hedge, having a piss!”

Completing a round-robin of the UK brings us to the Irish. Famed for their extensive comic repertoire, typified when Irish national Stephen stated that his birthplace was ‘the far east’. Dartford in Kent to be precise. His place of birth is acknowledged by its own rhyme: “Dirty Dartford, peculiar people, bury their dead above the steeple”, since the Holy Trinity church graveyard is situated in St Edmund’s Pleasance on the summit of East Hill which is situated above the town. In this stitch in time the more deprived areas of London coined the narrative, ‘What did your Dad do during the war?’ leading to many, less than complimentary gags about other nation-states and religion. An edgy gag Stephen recalled on the television comedy ‘Mind your Language’ aired in the 1970s which was set in a linguistic school teaching English as a second language was: “Give me a sentence using the word Catalyst. Spanish guy stands up, ‘I’m a good Roman Catalyst!’ Teacher, ‘No you’re not!’ Spaniard, ‘Yes I am!’ Italian, ’No you are not! I never see you at mass!’”

From around the globe American Pam offered up her childhood memory: ‘Knock, knock! Who’s there? MADAM! Madam who? MY DAMN FOOTS CAUGHT IN THE DOOR OPEN IT UP!” Aussie Andrew recalled, ‘What is black and white and red all over? If you replied, a newspaper you would be wrong as it’s a sunburnt magpie. Groan! Katheryn’s Hungarian lodger offered up, ‘What flashes through the mind of a bug as it hits a windshield at 60mph? (pause) His ass!’

Over to the true East, I looked forward to my contacts destroying the myth that this culture struggled with the concept of upbeat humor. A rather shy contributor from Malaysia recalled that children were often told by their parents that they had been found in the garbage. Maybe the research was right? Although Li Za did rescue the whole of the Asian continent with this comedy gold, ‘What turns black and white as it rolls down the hill? Answer: a penguin.’ Somewhat surprisingly I am still awaiting feedback from my five German friends.

Back to the other, and funnier, part of my favorite double act Arthur. The Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky suggested that humor improves a child’s cognitive development. His infectious smile and almost consistent giggling lead me to the conclusion that little Arthur will grow up to be both an eminent brain surgeon and will top the bill in Las Vegas with his unique stand-up routine. Of course, and according to his Dad Ruairi, these vocational choices will follow the conclusion of his footballing career as center-forward for West Ham United. Now there is a joke if ever I heard one!

Young Arthur Ellis out and about

© Ian Kirke 2020