In a world filled with surveys, polls and online questions, there can’t be many that will inspire more controversy than this: what’s the world’s funniest joke?
Dr. Richard Wiseman, a professor at the University of Hertfordshire in England set out to find out the answer to that seemingly impossible query.
He asked surfers to submit their favourite lines and then rate the ones submitted by others. The response was overwhelming.
More than 300,000 people from 60 countries responded, pouring in 400,000 different gag lines, puns and bon mot over a period of more than a year.
And the winner is sure to create as much controversy as it does laughs.
After exhaustive research, Wiseman tracked the winner down to an impeccable source: The Goon Show, a classic British radio comedy.
The joke, which concerns a hunter, was apparently written by veteran comedian Spike Milligan and first aired on the show in the 1950s.
The professor doesn’t draw a lot of conclusions from his research, which was meant to show that scientists aren’t the dour lot some people perceive them to be as well as measure the effects of humour on the brain.
And besides, it was a lot of fun reading all those emails.
Here’s the winning entry with a slightly modern twist:
A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head.
The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: “My friend is dead! What can I do?”
The operator, in a calm soothing voice says: “Just take it easy. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.”
There is a silence, then a shot is heard.
The guy’s voice comes back on the line. He says: “OK, now what?”
“This joke is interesting because it works across many different countries, appeals to men and women, and young and old alike,” Wiseman explains on his website.
“Many of the jokes submitted received higher ratings from certain groups of people, but this one had real universal appeal.
“Also, we find jokes funny for lots of different reasons – they sometimes make us feel superior to others, reduce the emotional impact of anxiety-provoking events, or surprise us because of some kind of incongruity.
“The hunters joke contains all three elements – we feel superior to the stupid hunter, realize the incongruity of him misunderstanding the operator and the joke helps us to laugh about our concerns about our own mortality.”
What’s that they say about how analyzing a joke takes away its humour?
This may be a perfect case in point, but before this article ends on a less than hilarious note, here’s the runner-up.
Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson go on a camping trip. After a good dinner and a bottle of wine, they retire for the night, and go to sleep.
Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. “Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see.”
“I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes” replies Watson.
“And what do you deduce from that?”
Watson ponders for a minute.
“Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets.
“Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo.
“Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three.
“Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow.
“Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?”
Holmes is silent for a moment. “Watson, you idiot!” he says. “Someone has stolen our tent!”
The site also ranks the top jokes submitted by countries. Here’s the one that bested all the rest from Canada:
When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity.
To combat the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion to develop a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300 C.
The Russians used a pencil.
To read more of the research (and the jokes), click here.