Monday, May 7, 2007

Why Do People Tell Jokes?

First, let's define "joke" as not being a one-liner, or a brief witticism. Instead, it's referring to the interminable story that places an enormous demand on the audience's patience in exchange for a "punchline" that is intended to evoke laughter. It's debatable whether anyone really enjoys being at the receiving end of this treatment, unless they wanted to acquire a new joke to repeat to others.

There are several reasons why people find jokes annoying:

1. They are often not funny.

2. It is hard to know when the joke ends, requiring the listener to provide interim false chuckles when he thinks the joke might be ending.

3. Even if the punchlines are funny, they are rarely worth waiting for.

4. They demand that you pay attention to someone who you would otherwise be ignoring.

So, why do people tell jokes?

1. To feel acceptance by others, as displayed by the audience's laughter -- although their laughter (and occasional clapping) might just be a display of relief that the joke has mercifully ended.

2. To compete (or, rarely, to exact revenge) against others who might also be telling jokes.

3. To affirm their membership in the "guy's club"; women never tell jokes. And the louder the laugh, the more you are in the club.

4. To become the center of attention without any effort beyond repeating things.

5. To break the silence at social functions; i.e., some people prefer jokes to staring quietly at the floor.

Some other time, we will need to explore why women don't tell jokes.


Anonymous said...


I find that in general, right wing people tell and enjoy jokes straightforwardly.

Left wing people tend to worry overtly about offending certain groups. Their comedy often has an agenda of one kind or another which tends to make the listener feel as if they are being ranted at. Or else the jokes reinforce an agreed viewpoint without shedding any new light ("Bush is a moron"). Let me not labour the point but it is not without cause that left wingers are regarded as humorless.

Are we losing you to the darkside?

faQster said...

I'm still trying to figure out what is meant by "right wing", so therefore I'm not sure about their joke-telling habits.

In any case, it is very possible to tell a completely tasteless and offensive joke without the ten-minute warm-up to the punchline about the naked rabbi, priest, and minister.

Incidentally, is it offensive to exclude the imam from such humor? Or is it offensive to include him? Or does it not matter; it is an insult no matter what you do...