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The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funnyby Peter McGraw and Joel Warner
Synopses & Reviews
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.
"The iffy field of humorology is fitfully illuminated in this gonzo pop-science expedition. Journalist Warren and psychology professor McGraw, director of the University of Colorado's Humor Research Lab, investigate the sketchy research on what makes people laugh, focusing on McGraw's 'benign violation theory,' which posits that off-kilter, unsettling or threatening situations turn funny when somehow tweaked to seem unserious. (Ultrasonic rat squeaks and great apes' panting, they speculate, are laughter precursors that signal friendly rough-housing.) It's an engaging conceit if not quite a breakthrough — McGraw applies it to crafting a mediocre stand-up routine — but the book's heart is the author's globetrotting pursuit of humor-themed figures and phenomena: the New Yorker cartoon caption contest; boozy ad-men trying to think up droll taglines; inscrutable Japanese comic monologues; African mass laughter epidemics. There's not much rigorous science in these unfocused junkets, and not always much humor; visits to prophet-profaning Scandinavian cartoonists under lock-down, West Bank sketch-comedy shows, and clown parades through miserable Peruvian slums mainly demonstrate that many of the world's problems can't be easily laughed off. Writing in the Freakonomics vein of colorful social sciences reportage, McGraw and Warren proffer much vivid and amusing picaresque in their setup, but the scientific punch line carries little weight. (Apr. 1)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"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
About the Author
Peter McGraw, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder where he directs HuRL (the Humor Research Lab), is a leading expert in the interdisciplinary fields of emotion and behavioral economics. His work has been covered by NPR, Nightline, The Wall Street Journal, Scientific American, The New York Times and the BBC. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.
Joel Warner, an award-winning former staff writer for Westword, Denver's alternative newsweekly, has written for Wired, The Boston Globe, Slate, Grantland, and other publications. He lives in Denver, Colorado.
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