The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny

Part road-trip comedy and part social science experiment, a scientist and a journalist “shed fascinating light on what makes us laugh and why” (New York Post).

Two guys. Nineteen experiments. Five continents. 91,000 miles. The Humor Code follows the madcap adventures and oddball experiments of Professor Peter McGraw and writer Joel Warner as they discover the secret behind what makes things funny. In their search, they interview countless comics, from Doug Stanhope to Louis CK and travel across the globe from Norway to New York, from Palestine to the Amazon. It’s an epic quest, both brainy and harebrained, that culminates at the world’s largest comedy festival where the pair put their hard-earned knowledge to the test.

For the first time, they have established a comprehensive theory that answers the question “what makes things funny?” Based on original research from the Humor Research Lab (HuRL) at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and the pair’s experiences across the globe, The Humor Code explains the secret behind winning the New Yorker cartoon caption contest, why some dead baby jokes are funnier than others, and whether laughter really is the best medicine.

Hilarious, surprising, and sometimes even touching, The Humor Code “lays out a convincing theory about how humor works, and why it’s an essential survival mechanism” (Mother Jones).

Nanci Arvizu, Writing and Reviews Editor

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  1. Worldwide comedy romp As The Humor Code notes several times, humor can’t stand to be examined. It falls apart and fails, like magic does when you explain a trick. That said, the authors fly off around the world, looking at comedy and humor and what makes them tick in different societies. From their Denver base, they get to visit with New York admen, Palestinian sketch satirists, Japanese standup students, and eventually take all they have learned and demonstrate it at the Just for Laughs festival. 

  2. Very little here of substance This book was a disappointment. The premise was quite intriguing in that that these two gentlemen would travel to different cultures in search of what made people laugh, and if there was a common element that held true through these cultures. The two, a professor of marketing and psychology and a journalist, propose that that common element is one of “benign violation.” This is where there is something presented that is sensed to be unsettling, wrong or threatening, but then is found…

  3. Fun, Evidence-based, and Well-Written My son stole my first copy of this book and won’t give it back, so I bought a second. The blend of rigorous theory and research, a dash of academic controversy and a delightful travel tale make this a delight to read. As an academic, I confess that I don’t take anyone seriously who claims to have found or invented the one behavioral science theory that explains everything — some of the Amazon reviewers are taking this whole humor thing too seriously. Most theories hold on some conditions…

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