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Four in ten people laugh at bad jokes, scientists find

Researchers believe that we may be amused at being let down by the humour - and that we laugh at how bad a joke can actually be.

Dr Nancy Bell made her findings after a team of colleagues told this joke to almost 200 people: "What did the big chimney say to the little chimney? Nothing. Chimneys can’t talk."

The most common reaction was to laugh, a response given by 37 per cent of people. The second-most likely reaction was to respond in a mildly negative way, by saying something like ‘That’s not very funny.’

Next came bland, non-committal comments like ‘Okay’. Only a small minority were rude about the joke or made sarcastic comments about its teller. Only six per cent rolled their eyes or shook their head, while a tiny 0.5 per cent groaned.

Dr Bell, an assistant professor of English at Washington State University in the US, said strangers were far more likely to be polite when told a bad joke than friends or loved-ones.

She said: "We found that social relationship was highly significant, suggesting that responses to failed humour among intimates will be most direct and negative, while strangers and acquaintances will tend to use more neutral responses."

Professor Richard Wiseman, a psychologist from Hertfordshire University, said people might laugh at bad jokes because they were surprised at receiving such a bad punchline.

© The Telegraph Group
London 2009

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