In 2002, Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire asked the world what is the funniest joke ever. He created a website called Laugh Lab and asked people to rate and submit jokes. His aim, of course, is to find out what joke appealed most to the world, using different demographic, cultural, and geographical factors.
The joke Wiseman discovered to be the funniest was a joke Grupal Gosal submitted to Spike Milligan and came out of the 1951 Goon Show. It went like this:
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 gun shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says “OK, now what?”
Okay, did you laugh at the joke?
My follow up question would be why?
I mean, why do we laugh?
You see, laughter is something that transcends borders and cultures. You don’t learn how to laugh like how you learn a language, you just do. And it’s fascinating because as early as 3.5 months-old, most humans have the ability to laugh!
One of the more interesting things about laughter is that we do it unconsciously. Like, you can’t laugh whenever you will to. That is why it’s difficult to ask a person to laugh on the spot.
What’s more interesting is that laughter is still difficult to map out, in terms of physiology. In fact, there is so much little data about which specific brain mechanisms are responsible for laughter, but what we know is that it activates a many parts of the body.
When we crack up, our facial expression changes, the muscle of our arms, legs, and trunk move and our breathing pattern changes.
But laughter is not just a physiological phenomenon, it’s also social in nature.
Researcher Robert Provine, Ph.D., did a ten-year study of over 2,000 cases of natural laughter and found out that people laugh not because of humor but because of relationships.
Provine found out that normal statements such as “Hey John, where ya been?” “Here comes Mary,” “How did you do on the test?” and “Do you have a rubber band?” were more likely to crack someone up rather than jokes!
Also, humans tend to laugh socially, which explains why laughter is both contagious and difficult to do alone.
Curiously, laughter seldom interrupts the sentence structure of speech. It punctuates speech. We only laugh during pauses when we would cough or breathe.
So in conclusion, we laugh because of two things:
- Because it is a social practice
- Because it’s contagious (see video)
Why are we ticklish?
Now before we answer why, let me tell you that there are two types of ticklish sensations:
- Knismesis – which doesn’t produce laughter but can cause you to feel itchy. This is why you feel icky when insects and spiders crawl in your skin. This may be due to evolution as we developed it to avoid being bitten, and eventually dying from the poison or infection of early insects and arachnids.
- Gargalesis – which can make you laugh. This type involves the application of pressure in your sensitive areas repeatedly.
Now to answer the question: we feel ticklish because we evolved to protect ourselves from outside forces that may harm us. In Knismesis, you are most likely to repel ticklish insects and animals because you came from a specie that evolved with the natural repulsion for formerly harmful specie.
Meanwhile in Gargalesis, you are most likely to flinch when someone tickles you because the sensitive and ticklish areas you have are often the most vulnerable points you have.
We learned today that the funniest joke came from a 1950 Goon Show. Also, we learned that humans laugh to more than to socialize and use it as a medium that transcends language. (We also learned that there is actually a guy who studied and listen to laughter for ten freaking years). Lastly, we learned that being ticklish is an evolutionary product and the reason why we are all alive today is because we protected those sensitive areas and now they become too untouched that a single sensation can make us feel icky or giggly!