LONDON – Heard the one about the German sense of humor? Teutonic wit is the readiest in the world, according to the largest-ever scientific study of what makes us laugh.
The nation that has always been notorious for its struggles with comedy is more likely than any other to find a joke funny, the international experiment into the psychology of humor has revealed.
The first results from the Laugh Lab project, which asked more than 100,000 people to judge the quality of more than 10,000 jokes, show that Germans have more laughter in their lives than any other nationality, finding 35 per cent of the gags "very funny."
Britons are less easily amused, approving 30 percent of the jokes, while among Canadians — the hosts of the world’s premier comedy festival — only 26 percent of the anecdotes raised a smile.
Ludwig Linden, of the German Embassy, said that the findings gave the lie to the popular British perception of a dour people who rarely see the funny side of life. "I'm pleased that we get at last some recognition that we are a little bit open to humor," he said.
Laugh Lab researchers said that such a rehabilitation of German comedy remains premature: the results could also indicate a propensity to laugh at jokes that aren't funny.
"It could be that they've got the best sense of humor and thus they find a lot of things funny," said Richard Wiseman of Hertfordshire University, who is leading the study.
"The other possibility, of course, is that there is not a huge amount of humor in their world, and that by comparison our jokes are hilarious. The top German jokes are quite surreal. There's one about a cat and dog that's rated very badly in the UK and U.S., but that's top of the table over there."
In the Laugh Lab study, which was launched in September by the British Association for the Advancement of Science, visitors to a website — www.laughlab.co.uk — are asked to submit their own jokes, and to rate five other anecdotes from a database of previous submissions. They must also fill in details of their sex, nationality and mood, which psychologists are analyzing for trends in what sparks the sense of humor.
The researchers hope to collect more than a million responses by the time the project ends in nine months' time. It will be the largest such scientific study ever conducted.
As well as identifying which country laughs the most, it will also work out who submits the funniest jokes, as judged by the rest.
At present, the leading anecdote, given a top rating by 47 percent of people, is British, sent in by Geoff Anandappa, 39, a former hotel worker from Blackpool. He heard the gag, about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, via e-mail.
"I saw an item about the study on television and I thought it looked very interesting," he said. "This one came to me from a friend just afterwards, so I copied it out and sent it to Laugh Lab. I don’t know where my friend got it from. I picked it because it was clean, to be honest. You couldn’t really send dirty jokes, but those are what make a lot of people laugh."
The Holmes anecdote is also a staple of Michael Portillo's after-dinner speeches. Mr. Portillo, who earned up to $30,000 this year on the speaking circuit, prefaces almost every address with the joke. "He's not going to be able to use that one for some time," Dr. Wiseman said.
An analysis of the first results has thrown up some interesting comparisons. "There are huge differences between the jokes favored by males and females," Dr. Wiseman said. "Males' top jokes involved aggression, putting women down and sexual innuendo. Females preferred jokes involving word plays."
National differences were also pronounced. "The UK appears to have retained its liking for Carry On-style humor, while the Germans like puns," he said. "It's interesting that Canada came bottom. They're the only country with a museum of comedy that had to close for lack of visitors."
Percentage of jokes rated 'funny'
New Zealand 29%