The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny
by Peter McGraw (Author), Joel Warner (Author)
Two guys. 19 experiments. Five continents. 91,000 miles. And a book that will forever change the way you think about humor.
Part road-trip comedy and part social science experiment, a scientist and a journalist detail their epic quest to discover the secret behind what makes things funny.
Dr. Peter McGraw, founder of the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, teamed up with journalist Joel Warner on a far-reaching search for the secret behind humor. Their journey spanned the globe, from New York to Japan, from Palestine to the Amazon. Meanwhile, the duo conducted their own humor experiments along the way—to wince-worthy, hilarious, and illuminating results.
In their quixotic search, they questioned countless experts, from comedians like Louis C.K. to rat-tickling researchers, and answered pressing (and not-so-pressing) questions such as, “What’s the secret to winning The New Yorker cartoon caption contest?”; “Who has the bigger funny bone—men or women, Democrats or Republicans?”; and “Is laughter really the best medicine?” As a final test, McGraw uses everything they learned to attempt stand-up—at the largest comedy festival in the world.
Funny, surprising, and often touching, The Humor Code is a revealing exploration of humor, society, and an unusual friendship.
*Starred Review* A few years ago, there was an episode of Family Guy in which Peter Griffin and his cohorts set off on a quest to find the origin of the world’s dirty jokes. Here, McGraw, founder of the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado, teams up with journalist Warner to find, not just the source of some jokes, but the answer to the Big Question, What makes something funny? It’s a lively book, taking the researchers around the world, asking experts (other humor researchers, comedians, writers), conducting hands-on experiments (taking improv classes, performing stand-up), trying to nail down why things make us laugh. You’d think this would be a no-brainer—we laugh because something is funny—but it’s actually a very complicated and important subject. Humor research is a surprisingly highly charged field (when one researcher calls another’s theory “flawed and bullshit,” you know there’s some passion there), and the notions about what makes something funny are surprisingly varied, from McGraw’s own “benign violation” theory, which posits that humor occurs when something seems simultaneously threatening and safe, to Arthur Koestler’s idea that comedy results from the bisection of two mutually exclusive frames of reference. By asking us to explore the reasons why we laugh, the authors force us to look inside ourselves. It’s not often you can say a book about comedy can teach us some serious lessons. This one does—and entertains us in the process. –David Pitt.
“It’s not often you can say a book about comedy can teach us some serious lessons. This one does—and entertains us in the process.” (Booklist (starred))
“Their book pulls off the neat literary trick of portraying a picaresque scientific enterprise that takes them around the world from Tanzania to Japan to Scandinavia.” (The Wall Street Journal)
“[T]he authors, in dissecting the nature of humor, shed fascinating light on what makes us laugh and why.” (New York Post)
“Peter McGraw, an irrepressible psychology prof, and Joel Warner, his straight-man scribe, deliver entertaining answers to nagging questions like: Do unhappy people make better comedians? Are some things too horrible to laugh at? And how do you win The New Yorker cartoon contest? … McGraw lays out a convincing theory about how humor works, and why it’s an essential survival mechanism. (Mother Jones)
“[I]n The Humor Code, psychologist Peter McGraw and journalist Joel Warner stalk the essence of comedy from New York to Tokyo, putting McGraw’s “benign violation” theory to the test. The best jokes, they find, tread on our sense of propriety and upset our expectations, but in a harmless way— no one is actually hurt, and the audience isn’t too offended… [McGraw and Warner] illuminate the inner workings of humor with a verve that befits the subject. You’ll detect the mechanisms they describe in your favorite TV shows, movies, and stand-up routines almost as soon as you’ve finished reading.” (Psychology Today)
“What makes The Humor Code work is its wide-eyed approach to the subject…. It’s part buddy-comedy road trip and part deftly-woven nonfiction, and it ultimately succeeds not on its format but its ideas and inviting tone.” (Splitsider)
“If you’ve ever wondered why we laugh at what we do,you have to read this book about the DNA of humor. The odd-couple authors take us on a journey from the halls of science to the backstage of Los Angeles comedy clubs, and they show us why people can laugh amidst tensions in Palestine or a clown brigade in the Amazon. It’s part Indiana Jones, part Tina Fey, and part Crime Scene Investigation, and it will make you smarter and happier.” (Chip Heath, author of Decisive, Switch, and Made to Stick)
“This book tickled my hippocampus. Joel Warner and Peter McGraw gave me paradigm-altering insights into humor, but also creativity, business, happiness, and, of course, flatulence.” (A.J. Jacobs, author of Drop Dead Healthy and The Year of Living Biblically)
“Engaging, wise, and of course funny, The Humor Code is a wonderful quest to discover who and what makes us laugh. Pete McGraw and Joel Warner are the best of company, and you’ll be glad you took this trip with them.” (Susan Cain, author of Quiet)
“The Humor Code is so good that I wish I wrote it. In fact, I’ve already started telling people I did. Luckily, Pete McGraw and Joel Warner are givers, so they won’t mind. They’ve given us a remarkable look at what makes us laugh, with the perfect blend of science, stories, satire, and sweater vests. This book has bestseller written all over it.” (Adam Grant, Wharton professor and bestselling author of Give and Take)
“Peter and Joel’s globe-spanning search for what makes things funny is a wonderful page-turner that entertains as much as it informs.” (Dan Ariely, author of The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty and Predictably Irrational)
“The Humor Code is a fun narrative of how a serious scientific theory is born, tested, and lived.” (Ben Huh, CEO of The Cheezburger Network)
“The Humor Code is a rollicking tour de farce that blends academic insights and amusing anecdotes to answer some of the most serious (and frivolous) questions about humor, from what makes us laugh and why we laugh at all, to how the world’s cultures came to have completely different senses of humor.” (Adam Alter, New York Times bestselling author of Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave; Assistant Professor of Marketing and Psychology)
“McGraw and Warner have done something quite remarkable and commendable. They’ve taken an intriguing question regarding the nature of humor and artfully mined answers from both the outcomes of scientific research and their own “world-wide comedy tour” experiences. I’ve never seen anything like it.” (Robert Cialdini, bestselling author of Influence)
“I’ve always been fascinated by how humor works. I’m not willing to say that The Humor Code solves the puzzle once and for all, but it comes pretty close – and along the way it’s a hell of a ride.” (Jimmy Carr, Stand-up comedian, television host, actor, and co-author of Only Joking: What’s So Funny About Making People Laugh?)
“Spanning five-continents, McGraw and Warner’s quest for a unified field theory of funny may be quixotic but, like Don Q and Sancho, their misadventures are irresistible and their enthusiasm is as infectious as the laughter they chronicle. Together they manage to find the science in comedy and the comedy in science, and share it all with the reader in this playful Baedeker of humor.” (Barnet Kellman; Emmy-Award winning director of Murphy Brown and Mad About You, professor of Cinema Arts at USC, co-director of Comedy@SCA)
“”The Humor Code” was informative, entertaining, well-written and moving, and one you won’t want to miss.” (ColoradoDaily.com)
Hardcover: 256 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster; First Edition edition (April 1, 2014)
Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 1 inches