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Warmer: Do you have a sense of humour? What makes you laugh? Do you know any good jokes? What’s the funniest joke you’ve ever heard? Do you believe there is something like the funniest joke in the world?

 

Read the article below, then answer the following questions.

In search of the funniest joke in the world

Written by Roger Hartopp, 26 March 2018, from articles featured in Wikipedia, the BBC website, the Daily Telegraph and Business Insider

 

Almost fifty years ago, a television comedy show revolutionised the way the English – and indeed, internationally – saw television comedy. That show was Monty Python’s Flying Circus, and perhaps it’s the only show from that time that can still make people smile or even laugh today. It may well be the funniest comedy show ever made although there will be several other examples of shows, perhaps more recently, that might claim to be otherwise.

But I’m using Monty Python to explain the title of this article further because I want to go back to the very first show, broadcast on the 5th October 1969, to a sketch called ‘the funniest joke in the world’.

The idea of the sketch is of a joke that was so funny that anybody reading it would die of laughter. A British "writer of jokes", creates the funniest joke in the world on a piece of paper, only to die laughing. His mother, thinking it’s a suicide note, reads it and also immediately dies laughing. A brave police inspector attempts to get the joke by creating a depressing mood around him, but leaves the flat with the joke and dies from laughter. The British Army are interested; they test the joke on a boring rifleman who snickers and falls dead. They then translate it into German, with each translator working on only one word of the joke for their own safety (one translator saw two words of the joke and had to be hospitalised). The German translation is used for the first time on 8 July 1944 in the Ardennes, causing German soldiers to fall down dead from laughter. The joke is then used in open warfare with a German field hospital shown with uncontrollably laughing German soldiers in blood-stained bandages, being attended to by medics with stoppered ears. At the end of the war, the last copy of the joke is sealed under a monument, now banned by the Geneva Convention. The German translation of the joke is meaningless, but should you choose to run it through Google translator, you get the message ‘FATAL ERROR’!

Incredibly, there was a real case in 1975 of a man who had heart failure after laughing for half an hour watching an episode of the BBC comedy show The Goodies. Later his wife wrote to the show's stars to thank them for making his final 30 minutes so enjoyable. But it now turns out that he may have had Long QT Syndrome as his 23-year old granddaughter had a near fatal cardiac arrest at home and was diagnosed with the condition in which the person suddenly faints or passes out during exercise, or when experiencing intense emotions, such as fear.

Anyway, back on track. Deciding what is funny is an almost impossible task as it really depends on the person’s subjective point of view, the culture, the wordplay, and even the language; what seems funny in one language might get a puzzled reaction in another. An awful lot of English jokes depend on playing with words which, when translated, will make no sense.

So what about the non-English-speaking world? Actually, finding one there is difficult. If you go to Google and ask, all it seems to find are jokes that play to the stereotype, and many of these could certainly be judged as offensive. The French, supposedly, love jokes about sex and bodily functions. Other sites just tell me simple jokes that I could practise my Spanish. In other words, the internet got me nowhere. I asked a few Polish people for a good joke and they just stared at me; eventually they did say they do like to make jokes about institutions and blondes, but so do we and, while funny, simply won’t be the funniest. Sorry non-English-speaking world.

So I have to stick to the English language and turn to Scotland for a possible source. Every August in Scotland, there is an annual event known as the Edinburgh Festival that includes The Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Anyone can take part, and what gets plenty of attention is the competition by comedians to come up with the best one-liners. Here’s ten, but are they funny, or even the funniest one-liners in the world?

“Crime in multi-storey car parks. That is wrong on so many different levels.”

When I was younger I felt like a man trapped inside a woman’s body. Then I was born.”

“Is it possible to mistake schizophrenia for telepathy? I hear you ask.”

“I was raised as an only child, which really annoyed my sister.”

“Life is like a box of chocolates. It doesn’t last long if you’re fat.”

“People say I’ve got no willpower but I’ve quit smoking loads of times.”

“Oh my god, mega drama the other day: My dishwasher stopped working! Yup, his visa expired.”

“I’m not a very muscular man; the strongest thing about me is my password.”

“Hey, if anyone knows how to fix some broken hinges, my door’s always open.”

I think the worst thing about driving a time machine is your kids are always in the back moaning ‘Are we then yet?'”

 

This website also carries at least two jokes every week on its home page, either in the form of a cartoon or a one-liner. Here are five which I personally wrote, but do you think they are funny?

'I went to a paper fair. They had tracing, photocopying, corrugated, white, green, red, black and much more, but after one hour I got board.'

'Somebody invented an invisible scoreboard, but I couldn't see the points.'

'Someone's setting up a conference about impulsive and spontaneous people. It starts in five seconds.'

'I went on a bargain hunt today and shot a TV and a ladies' coat.'

'I beat an egg last week. I scored 53 points, the egg 37.'

 

But what I should have done, perhaps at the very beginning, is ask Google, ‘what is the funniest joke in the world?’

Well, one man - a psychologist, Richard Wiseman, began a website called LaughLab where anyone around the world could submit a joke and rate other people's jokes. He got over 41,000 entries and about 1.5 million votes, and this is the joke that got the most votes, and so is the funniest:

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 the emergency services. 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?"

Why does this joke work? First of all, it can be translated into any language and not lose its humour. Although there were many other jokes that got higher ratings, these were only from certain groups of people. This one was truly universal. And it has a source: British comedian Spike Milligan. "It is very rare to be able to track down the origin of any joke but this is an exception," said Professor Wiseman. "There is some very rare footage from 1951 showing The Goons (a British comedy group whose humour, arguably, was a massive influence on British comedy, including Monty Python) in their first TV appearance. Just by chance I saw it on a documentary and saw a version of the very same joke." The material would have been written by Milligan and the script reads:

Michael Bentine:

I just came in and found him lying on the carpet there.

Peter Sellers:

Oh, is he dead?

Bentine:

I think so.

Sellers:

Hadn't you better make sure?

Bentine:

All right. Just a minute.

Sound of two gun shots.

 

Bentine:

He's dead.

Milligan's daughter, Sile, is as certain as she can be that he would have written the gag. She said she was "delighted that dad wrote the world's funniest joke".

So there you have it. The world’s funniest joke is official, but hopefully I won’t get a heart attack from it. So now I’m going to finish with a joke that I recently wrote and that can, perhaps, only be told in Poland and to those who know Polish shops and products, but require the listener to have a fairly good knowledge of English. It goes like this:

MIREK:

A friend of mine regularly buys 24 bottles of Zywiec from his local supermarket every week.

MAGDA:

Biedronka?

MIREK:

No, he just likes the water.

Think about it.

VOCABULARY

to revolutionise – to cause great changes in the way something is done

to broadcast – to send out a programme so that it can be heard on the radio or seen on television

suicide – to deliberately end ones’ life

brave – to have no fear

depressing mood – the feeling people get when they feel sad and disappointed

rifleman – here, a soldier who is skilled in the use of a rifle; a rifle is a type of gun with a long barrel (the tube that the bullet goes through when the gun is fired)

to snicker - to laugh quietly in a disrespectful way

to be hospitalised – to be placed in a hospital because of an illness or serious injury

stoppered ears – here, to have something placed in or on the ears to prevent them from hearing sound

cardiac arrest – a heart attack

diagnosed – when an illness or problem is identified

back on track – here, to get back to the subject that is being discussed

subjective – when something is based on personal opinions and feelings rather than on facts

annual – every year

hinge – here, something that is used to join a door to its frame so it can swing freely; there are usually two hinges to a door

to submit – to formally send something to someone so that they can consider it or decide about it

glazed eyes – eyes that look glossy or shiny

to whip out – to take out quickly from a pocket, bag or some kind of container attached to the person

footage – a film or part of a film which shows an event

gag – a joke

 

  1. According to the text, what was important about the television comedy Monty Python’s Flying Circus?

  2. What was the title of the sketch featured in this article that was broadcast in the very first show?

  3. Has there ever been a case of somebody who died laughing? What happened?

  4. According to the article, why is it often difficult to translate jokes into other languages?

  5. Was the author able to find any really funny jokes from other countries from the internet?

  6. What event is held every August in Edinburgh, Scotland? Which one-liner did you find particularly funny?

  7. What website dedicated to the English language usually has two jokes on its homepage every week?

  8. On which website was the funniest joke in the world decided?

  9. Do you understand the joke? Where did the joke come from? Why was it so popular?

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