Only you think you're funnier when you're drunk, research says

A small-scale and unscientifcally sound experiment suggests that the drunker you get, the funnier you feel. This feeling is not shared by others.

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"And then his leg broke in three places!" Alex Mark/YouTube screenshot by Chris Matyszczyk/CNET

Remember that night when you went out with your friends and told that joke about Justin Bieber, the tiger, and the pool table?

Remember how everyone laughed uproariously? And remember how this laughter made you take your pants off and dance on the table while waving said pants in the air?

Here is the bad news: not everyone thought you were funny.

This, at least, is the conclusion of a piece of research conducted by an academic and a journalist (now there's the beginning of a joke). It's described in their forthcoming book "The Humor Code: A Global Search For What Makes Things Funny."

Psychologist Peter McGraw from the University of Colorado teamed up with journalist Joel Warner to see how drink might truly affect humor.

They put 12 willing participants in New York's Hurricane Club and watched as an avalanche of humor emerged.

The idea was to give them drinks. After every one, they would tell a joke. These jokes were then put to a panel of depressingly sober judges.

McGraw's theory is that true, uncontrollable funniness is achieved when some sort of violation encounters a benign context. You have to know that the context is benign, otherwise the content of the joke might in itself appear mean or harmful.

McGraw believes that the drunker you get, the more perverted a perspective you have on what's truly funny. You tend to choose more daring topics, as your inner conscience of what is safe goes off for a gin and tonic.

He told the Atlantic: "Drinking reduces inhibition. But it opens the door to failure, with failure likely to be on the side of going too far."

It's an odd perspective, that. One person's going too far is another person's "Welcome. At last. How are you?"

Surely the true measure of funny lies in whether your immediate audience appreciates your jape, not whether some depressingly sober dunderhead deems it funny.

This, in my academic estimation, is called the You Had To Be There Principle.

Still, Warner summed up the their admittedly non-scientific research like this: "As people became more intoxicated, they thought they were funnier, but a sober audience didn't see it that way."

In which case perhaps the sober audience needed to, at the very least, sip a cheeky little sauvignon blanc. Or several.

(I should mention at this point that all their willing research participants worked for an ad agency. Those types always think they're funnier than they really are.)

The whole point of humor is context. Some days, your favorite comedy show doesn't seem funny at all. Some days, you can be with your best and wittiest companion, only for the jokes to flow like grit. There's often just something in the ether that makes an evening amusing.

These two wise researchers, however, believe that the height of your humorous talent comes around the third drink and then rapidly goes downhill.

At heart, though, it's often when an evening truly goes off the rails that the memories are the funniest and sweetest of all.

 

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