The Humor Code – Peter McGraw and Joel Warner

Apr 15

The Humor Code – Peter McGraw and Joel Warner

How did I  come to possess this informative and fantastic book about the science of humor? By making a borderline inappropriate joke to one of the authors on Twitter. More on that later.

Peter McGraw is a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder. He teamed up with exceptional writer Joel Warner to bring you the funny, backed by tons of research and a trip around the world. This dynamic duo attempts to answer many questions regarding comedy, the origin of humor, who is funny, and if laughter really is the best medicine. I have spent my life honing my wordplay skills and trying to find humor all around me. The book suggests surrounding yourself with positive, happy folks who readily laugh. My stepmother once told me that she wished she could see or talk to me every day, because she knew that she would then laugh every day. That was one sweet compliment.

Humor theories have abounded over the years. The answer, according to these comedic explorers is as simple as a Venn Diagram. The answer is also as complex as the universe; comedy has myriad variables and is therefore impossible to perfectly define. A particularly funny episode in the book has McGraw and Warner boozing up an ad exec team and testing out this formula. I’m thinking this might be a great idea for a new party game.


The authors travel to Los Angeles to find out who is funny. Like anything, apparently practice makes perfect. The strangest location for these academic adventurers? The team travels to Tanzania to investigate epidemics of hysterical laughter. The most interesting aspect of the book was the cultural studies. I always enjoy reading about other lands, this was a great twist on a typical geography tome.

What did I glean from this book? I still do not get Japanese humor, cartoons can apparently be dangerous, laughter is a powerful tool regarding your well-being, and these guys deserve some serious accolades for trying to find humor in Palestine.

The dork in me knows no bounds, and I will forever be grateful for being introduced to the SarcMark, a punctuation indicating sarcasm.

The beauty of humor, like the beauty of art, is that it is subjective. One can have a basic formula, but there is no one joke to rule them all. Backgrounds, politics, sex, age, culture, timing….and a million other little things add up to cracking that elusive code. Lucky me, I got to go along for the ride with Pete and Joel, all for the price of one fantastically timed Twitter conversation:

Humor Code: What kind of sandwich would be paired with our book?

Me: A “hero” of the comedy world? A Cheesy/Corny/Grilled concoction? I also had a sandwich called a “Loose Meat Pete.”

Thanks to that conversation, I read an amazing book and Dr. McGraw has a new nickname.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book for free in exchange for a review. All opinions are my own.

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