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The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny Hardcover – April 1, 2014
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"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
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*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
“The Humor Code is basically an adventure story... [with] more to say about humor than a skeptic might think possible; The Humor Code is a lot [of] fun." (New York Times)
“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)
Top customer reviews
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I find the concept of humor extremely interesting because it is so bewildering. It just does not make any sense. There does not seem to be any intrinsic value to humor. As far as we know, animals do not seem to laugh. Some say humor is a coping mechanism. Others say it’s a bonding technique. These make some sense, but to me they are not satisfying answers.
So I picked up the book The Humor Code hoping to learn more about what makes things funny. Professor Peter McGraw and journalist Joel Warner travel the globe looking for answers. Their adventures take them to Denver, Montreal, Denmark, Palestine and other locations around the world in order to understand the nuances of humor.
I found the book to be pleasant, but it definitely did not meet my expectations. I was looking for a more in depth look into the constructs of humor, not an Amazing Race type trek throughout the continents.
McGraw and Warner do quickly settle on a theory of humor called the “Benign Violation” theory. It is an interesting theory and I wish they spent more time testing the theory and finding challengers.
Perhaps, trying to understand humor is a lot like explaining a joke; it kind of ruins it.
The book starts well but later on becomes a travelogue.
Many passages could have been cut down and focused more on the message of what is humor in different settings.
If you want to skip the travelogue just read chapter 9,p. 199.
I really applaud the authors' quest to learn more about humor but the book could have been written more concisely. Also, I would have appreciated if there was more research based evidence.