The World's Oldest Joke

The first recorded joke in history sounds not unlike plenty of jokes you might hear today, especially if you get a kick out of potty humor. "Something which has never occurred since time immemorial; a young woman did not fart in her husband's lap." This joke and other classical quips were compiled by academics at the University of Wolverhampton. Dr. Paul McDonald, who led the study, identified "taboos and a degree of rebellion" as common themes among jokes that spanned centuries. The oldest known British joke asks: "What hangs at a man's thigh and wants to poke the hole that it's often poked before?" The answer? "A key."

What Makes Something Funny?

Certain "funny" themes have stood the test of time.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. The incongruity theory states that humor comes from a reversal of expectations. 01:48

  2. The superiority theory of humor states that we are compelled to laugh at the misfortune of others and elevate ourselves in comparison to them. 03:39

  3. The study of laughter's effects on the body is called gelotology. 07:44

The Formula For The Perfect Joke

Is there such a thing?

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Here's the mathematic set-up for the perfect joke: 00:12

  2. Plotting can be used to find ideal comedic timing. 02:11

Why Do We Laugh?

The science behind this physical reaction.

Key Facts In This Video

  1. Primates, dogs, and rats all exhibit laughter. 02:25

  2. In 1962, school children in Tanzania experienced omuneepo—a Swahili term meaning "laughing disease." 03:29

  3. Younger people are more susceptible to contagious laughter. 05:02

Written by Curiosity Staff September 25, 2015

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