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Journal of No. 118

April 13th, 2005

Cognitive Theory of Humor - Violated Expectations @ 09:52 am

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For some reason, the human brain finds violated expectations humorous. The set-up of a joke leads you to expect something, and when it turns out not to be the case (or better yet, completely violated) humor results. As an example from the late Mitch Hedberg:

I used to do drugs. I still do, but I used to, too.

The second statement violates our expectation of what 'used to do' means. So where am I going with all this boring analysis? Consider the following knock-knock joke:

Man 1: Knock, Knock
Man 2: Who's there?
Man 1: It's me Johnny.
Man 2: Oh, hey man! Come on in, and have a beer.

Not that knock-knock jokes are the pinnacle of wit, but this one is the funniest I've seen in a long time. And yet... what's funny about it? Reading it as dialogue, it is exactly what we might expect people to say. So what's funny about that? It is only the fact that we know it's a joke, and expect a joke. So when our expectation is violated (i.e. there is no joke) it suddenly becomes a joke.

sound of head rush

The brain also thrives on meta-: thinking outside the box, seeing things at a different level. On the surface level, it is not a joke, and that's what makes it a joke: a metajoke. If I were Doug Hofstadter, I would now go on to compare that knock-knock metajoke to the Cretan Liar Paradox and Gödel's Incompleteness Theorem. Since I'm not, I'll just point to Something Awful's Comedy Goldmine of 'jokes with realistic endings'. Some of these non-jokes are just non-jokes, but a few of them are excellent metajokes, mainly because they violate the expectation set-up by a cliche-joke surface-level beginning:

How many dead babies can you fit in a blender?
The police report indicates three.

A priest, a rabbi, and a buddhist monk walk into a bar, sit at the end and start having some drinks. Two hours later, they come out with a better understanding of each other and mutual respect, the beginnings of a friendship that last a lifetime.

What do you get when you cross a chicken with a centipede?
A media circus about the debate over the morals and ethics of genetic engineering.

Why did the blonde get fired from the M&M factory?
Repeated absences and stealing.

A horse walks into a bar, and the barman says "Why the long face?". The horse replies:
"I'm deeply troubled by the anthropomorphic aspects of my existance and the extent to which I am now protected by law."

What's worse then finding a worm in your apple?
The Holocaust.

For my next post, I will liken a chinese fortune cookie message to a Universal Turing Machine by way of an infinite number of monkeys typing Shakespeare.
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Date:April 13th, 2005 06:55 pm (UTC)



The knock-knock one is pretty awesome, too.
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Date:April 13th, 2005 07:04 pm (UTC)



It's funny cuz it's true!
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Date:April 13th, 2005 08:19 pm (UTC)
One of the things that used to really bug me about Next Generation is that no one could explain humor to Data. For me, it's obvious: humor is surprise followed immediately by recognition.

If you've heard a joke before, it's less funny the next time around because you're lacking surprise.

If you don't recognize the context of the "violated" set-up, you don't "get" the joke, so it's not funny.

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Date:April 14th, 2005 03:54 am (UTC)
What did the farmer say when he lost his tractor?
"Where's my tractor?"

Journal of No. 118