Everyone loves a George Bush gag...

Science Museum puts jokes to the test

Jokes about Harold Shipman, George Bush and paedophilia are more popular than puns about 9/11 and the killing of Benazir Bhutto.

That was the result of a rather unscientific experiment at London’s Science Museum last night that put various types of joke to the test.

The audience at the Seriously Funny event were asked to vote via an electronic keypad on 21 jokes delivered, deadpan, by comic Chris Green – who was performing in the guise of a humourless government adviser supposedly trying to determine what makes the nation laugh.

Strained wordplay seemed to go down badly, rather than any contentious subject matter; with seemingly sick jokes proving most popular.

But certain gags polarised the audience. Financial Times statistics expert Simon Briscoe, who analysed the responses, said: ‘The jokes that drove people to the extremes, either loving or hating the jokes, all involve doing unpleasant things to minorities.’

However, Briscoe also pointed out that the sample, of about 85 punters, was not representative. ‘You’re not normal people,’ he told the studenty audience – as there were no under-18s, which comprise a quarter of the population, and very few over-60s, which makes up another 20 per cent.

Just over half the audience described themselves as having a good sense of humour (52 per cent) – exactly the same proportion as were atheist. The crowd were also left-leaning, politically, but rampantly heterosexual, with no one categorising themselves as gay.

The audience had to rate the gags on a five-point scale, from finding no humour in it to very funny. Green said: ‘We are obtaining information on what is funny not through that outdated method of the laugh – but by digital feedback’.

The gag that was most popular was the visual one of President Bush on the phone, at the top of this story, followed by Green baring his backside.

Also popular was ‘What’s great about sex with twenty-eight-year-olds? There’s 20 of them’ and ‘Harold Shipman’s last meal was a curry – but he said he could have murdered a nan’.

But other bad-taste puns proved less popular. Although the weakest joke by far was a plastic dog turd, others that were badly received included: ‘What’s the name of Al Qaeda’s latest spread? I can’t believe it’s not Bhutto’, and one about 9/11 dubbing America’s military HQ ‘the Penta-gone’

Gags that polarised the audience included the 20 eight-year-olds one, ‘How do you stop a Welsh person drowing? Take your foot off its head’, and a midwife saying: ‘I’ve got bad news and good news. The bad news is your baby’s ginger. The good news is, it’s dead.’

The experiment was part of a season of light-hearted events at the museum’s Dana Centre, which also includes a ‘punk science’ show on January 29; and stand-up John Ryan’s show about health matters, Hurt Until It Laughs, on January 24.

Tobin May, from the Dana Centre, said: ‘Research suggests that January is the most depressing month of the year, with many suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder, lack of money and ill-health. Through comedy, science and interactive performance, we aim to offer people a different type of night out and help shake off the January blues.’

Published: 11 Jan 2008

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