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Wednesday, September 24, 2003

Stop Me if You've Heard this One Before

God is a comedian playing to an audience too afraid to laugh.

A man is at the hospital waiting to hear news about his wife who has had a terrible accident. The doctor approaches him.
“I’m afraid I have really bad news. Your wife will never walk again. She has lost most of the functions of her brain. She’ll basically be a drooling vegetable for the rest of her life.”
“My God, that’s awful,” the husband replies.
“I’m just kidding,” the doctor says. “She’s dead.”

According to Janet Drummond, associate professor of psychology at the University of Washington in Seattle, if you laughed at the preceding joke this proves that you are almost completely immune to normal human emotions and desensitized to all concepts of right and wrong. Either that or you have a completely healthy sense of humor. It could go either way. Dying and suffering are either no laughing matter or freaking hilarious; it’s too close for the professor to call with any degree of accuracy.

Professor Drummond also has something to say about people who laugh at incredibly lame jokes. Take this morning’s comic Pardon My Planet by Vic Lee in which a woman is trying on a dress that makes her look like a TV remote control. Her friend tells her, “Take my word for it-he won’t be able to keep his hands off you.” “For any normal human being, hearing a punch line like that should make your eyes roll back in your head so hard you fall over backwards,” Drummond said as she poured herself another four fingers of Old Granddad. “I don’t know about you but there has never been enough cheap bourbon made to make me laugh at something like that.”

Drummond, the author of the highly influential treatise on American humor, What Are You, Some Kind of Animal? How Can You Laugh at That?, studied the effects of humor on children to reach many of her conclusions. “Children are a fantastic microcosm of adult behavior. That and you don’t have to pay them a damn thing for the studies. We basically provide free baby sitting and the parents are all over it. In fact, when we announce that we need subjects for a study the parents literally kick down the door to our lab and throw their kids at us. Half the time we have to call them repeatedly and beg them to come pick up their children when we’re done.”

Drummond examined groups of five year old children and how they reacted to the popular comic strip Hi & Lois. In her study she found that 99% of the children studied reported that they "didn’t get it” when queried about the humor content of the family-oriented strip. When slight changes were made in the comic to make it highly offensive (The baby was sold for crack in one panel, in another the father is savagely punched in the crotch by the wife) she couldn’t get the five year olds to stop laughing. “These children are our future,” Drummond says as she shudders and makes a sign of the cross. “Can you excuse me; the liquor store closes at 8.”

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