What’s so funny?



Better yet, what is that funny thing we call laughing, anyway?

Everybody knows, of course. Just watch a child play or a good comedian take to the stage or somebody tuning in to silly kittens on the Internet.

But nobody really knows. The brainiacs who have to figure things out in order to stay happy can’t dissect a joke as if it were a frog in anatomy class and find the funny inside. When you take the poor thing apart it dies.

Here’s what it looks like to at least one scientist I know: “Laughter is a physiological response in the brain that produces a set of simultaneous, rhythmic sounds and gestures and uses 15 facial muscles.” Hilarious, right?

But, believe it or not, somebody actually found the funniest joke in the world. Really. It was a psychologist named Richard Wiseman who launched a website to harvest the best laugh bait he could find from all around Planet Earth. He pulled in 41,000 jokes and 1.5 million votes. So, here’s the funniest joke in the world:

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls 911. He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the guy says “OK, now what?”

OK, that’s my question, too. Now what? Actually, I’ve only heard one explanation that I like for what’s really so funny. HBO and Comedy Central comedy star, Kumail Nanjiani, said, “Stand-up [comedy] is successful if they laugh. It’s unsuccessful if they don’t laugh.”

If it makes you laugh, it’s funny. If it don’t, it ain’t. I like that one. As a matter of fact, what’s so funny is a lot like what that famous, ancient Greek comedian, Plato, once said. “Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder.”


So, if you accept this week’s invitation from the Jamestown Gazette – or anybody else among the happy hoards of volunteers and staff connected with the 2016 Lucille Ball Comedy Festival – go enjoy the comedy of your choice.

Even jolly old King James reported, “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine…” (Proverbs 17:22).

Go take your medicine. It is good for you. Just remember, in life there is more to laugh at that the other guy. Ethel Barrymore once explained, “You grow up the day you have the first real laugh at yourself.”

During the month of August in every one of the last 25 years, the country’s best comedians have made a happy pilgrimage to Jamestown, today’s new Mecca of what’s so funny. They come just to make you – and 10 or 20 thousands of your closest friends – laugh out loud. Enjoy!

Irish actor, Kenneth Branagh (actually, Sir Kenneth), though not a comedian himself, offers this bit of advice: “Lighten up, just enjoy life, smile more, laugh more, and don’t get so worked up about things.”

And, of course, enjoy the read.

Walt Pickut
The Jamestown Gazette

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Walt Pickut
Walt Pickut’s writing career began with publishing medical research in1971 while working at the Jersey City Medical Center and the NYU Hospital and School of Medicine. Walt holds board registries in respiratory care and sleep technology as well as bachelor's degrees in biology and communication, and a master's degrees in physiology from Fairleigh-Dickinson University in New Jersey, with additional graduate work in mass communication completed at SUNY Amherst. He currently teaches Presentational Speaking in the Houghton College PACE program at JCC and holds memberships in the Society of Professional Journalists and the American Society of Business Publication Editors. He lives in Jamestown with his wife Nancy, an MSW social worker, and has three children: Dr. Cait Lamberton in Pittsburgh, Bill Pickut, a marketing executive in Chicago, and Rev. Matt Pickut in Plymouth, IN.