TOPAZ Issue 8 / 2003
A Musical Tribute
Understanding Competition
The Template of Sacred Architecture
Helping hand for ADHD children
Brief history of humour
More about Humour
How to watch films
Shakespeare’s Private Theatre
A Day in the Theatre of Life

More about Humour

National Laughter

A team of psychologists from the UK set up a web site where people from all over the world were invited to rate jokes for humour, with over 2 million people taking part. The experiment revealed wide humour differences between nations. Germans were rated as the most humorous nation, they were found to enjoy most jokes, and found nearly every type of joke funny, while Japanese gave almost every joke a low rating. People from the UK, Australia and New Zealand most enjoyed jokes involving clever word play, and Americans and Canadians had a more ‘slap-stick’ sense of humour, often involving someone being made to look stupid. Other European countries mostly enjoyed jokes with an off-beat surreal sense to them, and that dealt with big subjects in a light way.

The experiment also revealed that jokes containing around 103 words were thought to be especially funny, and that if a joke involved animals, those mentioning ducks were seen as being funnier than others. They also found that there was a tendency for people to find jokes funnier at one time than another, varying from day to day.

Laughter is the best medicine

We all know that we feel better for having had a good laugh. This has been scientifically proven...

  • Laughter reduces stress hormones;
  • It reduces the risk of heart attack;
  • While we laugh at a funny movie, our immunity is increasing by the increase of gamma interferon (a disease fighting protein), T-cells and B-cells (disease fighting cells);
  • Oxygenation of the blood increases;
  • Laughter is a release for the emotions;
  • Circulation improves;
  • Salivary immunoglobulin A defends against infection entering through the respiratory tract, and laughter increase its concentration;
  • Endorphins (natural pain killers produced in the brain) increase;
  • It exercises many muscles;
  • It boosts information retention.

Being serious about laughter

The scientific study of humour has been given a name, gelotology, and more clinical studies are being done to document its physiological and therapeutic effects. At the same time mental health professionals are increasingly advocating laughter therapy. There are now doctors and health workers who actively promote humour and take it into hospitals, old people’s homes, and convalescent wards. In India and other parts of the world ‘Laughter Clubs’ have been set up - just to laugh deliberately, no jokes or humour involved..

Weak with Laughter

Yes, it’s been proved, we do become weak with laughter. Researchers at Leiden University monitored a reflex that increases as the nerves become excited. When people laughed this reflex disappeared, indicating they would find it more difficult to use their muscles. So muscles really do weaken after laughter, however there was no change with a simple smile.

Laughter on the brain

Laughter seems to be produced via circuits that run through many regions of the brain. The left side of the cortex analyses the words and structure of the joke, while the right hemisphere appears to carry out an analysis, in other words the left side sets up the joke and the right side ‘gets’ it. The large frontal lobe also becomes active, and when we laugh loudly and uncontrollably, then it has been shown that the hypothalamus is a major contributor.

Recordings made with an EEG show that a regular positive electrical wave moves through the cerebral cortex very soon after exposure to something funny. If this then becomes coupled with a negative component, laughter resulted. If it didn’t, then there was no response. This was such a marked effect that laughter inducing episodes could be identified by the brain wave record alone.

A social context

Laughter most often happens in the context of a conversation, and it almost always occurs during pauses at the end of phrases. It also has been found to cause a feeling of intimacy between people who have been laughing at the same thing.

Is our sense of humour in our genes?

The Twin Research Unit at St Thomas Hospital in London looked at 254 female twins to find out what they found funny. Each twin watched a variety of cartoons in separate rooms at the same time, and graded their reactions. When the results were analysed the researchers found that what a person found funny was more to do with environmental factors rather than any genetic predisposition. They reported, “We found that between one third and two thirds of the variability in reaction to the cartoons was due to environmental effects, and genetic factors did not appear to contribute. This implies that there’s a lot of cultural influence on humour”.

Topaz decided to shallowly investigate the different natures of humour within varying nationalities, by asking the editors from each country where Topaz is produced, to provide a joke that they enjoyed. Here are the results.


"This is your captain speaking”, the voice boomed through the speaker of the Boeing 747 from Munich to New York. "On behalf of the crew we welcome you on board this transcontinental flight. We will be flying at a height of 30,000 feet, the temperature will be approximately minus 47 degrees, and our approximate flying time will be 8 hours and 35 minutes. We wish you a pleasant flight and would like to ask you to please fasten your seat belt for take off." After a short pause the captain continues, "But I want to hear one click!"


Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson go on a camping trip. They unload their equipment, set up their tent, then cook and eat a good dinner. They share a final brandy together, then retire for the night and fall asleep.
Some hours later Holmes wakes up his faithful friend, and says "Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see."
"I see millions and millions of stars", replies Watson.
"What does that tell you?"
Watson thinks for a minute. "Well astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, it tells me that Venus is in Gemini. I would deduce from the position of the stars that it is approximately a quarter past three. Theologically, it's evident the Lord is all-powerful and we are small and insignificant in the magnificence of the universe. Meteorologically, it seems we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. What does it tell you?"
Holmes is silent for a moment, "Watson, you idiot" he says, "someone has stolen our tent!"


An Italian, a German and a Dane were working at the same building site. Each day at noon they climbed up to the top of the scaffolding to eat their packed lunches.
One day when settling themselves for their lunch, the Italian, Mario, opens his lunch box, looks in and exclaims: ”Pizza! Notta againa. I hata pizza!” The German, Wolfgang, opens his lunch box and cries: "Ach nein! Sauerkraut again. Ich hasse Sauerkraut!". And the Dane, Jens, opens his lunch box and says: ”Liver paste again. I hate liver paste!”
The next day at lunch, Mario opens his lunch box: "Que gazi fai, Pizza, sempre Pizza! If I get pizza again tomorrow, then I’ll jump!” Wolfgang too sees his lunch: "Sauerkraut, immer wieder sauerkraut! Wenn ich morgen wieder get sauerkraut in my lunch, I wilst jump!” Jens, the Dane opens his lunch box and says: "Liver paste again! If I get liver paste again tomorrow, then I’ll jump!”
The following day again they’re up on the scaffolding again. Mario unpacs his lunch and looks in the lunch box: "PIZZA!" And he jumps ..."AARRGH!". Wolfgang looks in his lunch box: "SAUERKRAUT, DONNERWETTER!". He jumps as well. Finally Jens opens his lunch: "Liver paste!" And he jumps!
The three friends have a joint funeral, at which the three widows meet. The Italian widow exclaims: ”I don’ta understanda. And I’d even made him pizza for lunch, his favorite meal!” The German lady says: ”Unbegreiflich. Ich don’t understand. My dear Wolfi. And on a day when I’d made his favourite meal, sauerkraut, for him.” And the Danish widow says: ”I don’t get it either. Jens had made his own lunch as usual”


A little girl was sitting on her grandfather's lap as he read her a bedtime story. From time to time, she would take her eyes off the book and reach up to touch his wrinkled cheek. She was alternately stroking her own cheek, then his again. Finally she spoke up, "Grandpa, did God make you?"
"Yes, sweetheart," he answered, "God made me a long time ago."
"Oh," she paused, "Grandpa, did God make me too?"
"Yes, indeed honey," he said, "God made you just a little while ago."
Feeling their respective faces again, she observed, "God's getting better at it, isn't he?"

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