Dr. Peter McGraw, founder of the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, teamed up with journalist Joel Warner on a far-reaching search for the secret behind humor. Their journey spanned the globe, from New York to Japan, from Palestine to the Amazon. Meanwhile, the duo conducts their own humor experiments along the way—to wince-worthy, hilarious, and illuminating results.
In their quixotic search, they questioned countless experts, from Louis C.K. to rat-tickling researchers, and answered pressing (and not-so-pressing) questions such as, “What’s the secret to winning the New Yorker cartoon caption contest?” “Who has the bigger funny bone—men or women, Democrats or Republicans?” and “Is laughter really the best medicine?” As a final test, McGraw uses everything they learned to attempt stand-up—at the largest comedy festival in the world.
Funny, surprising, and often touching, The Humor Code is a revealing exploration of humor, society and an unusual friendship.
Praise and Reviews
“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.”
—Booklist (Starred Review)
“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.”
“[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.”
“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.”
“Peter and Joel’s globe-spanning search for what makes things funny is a wonderful page-turner that entertains as much as it informs.”
—Dan Ariely, bestselling author of The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty and Predictably Irrational
“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, bestselling author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking
“I’ve always been fascinated by how humor works. I’m not willing to say that The Humor Code solves the puzzle once and for all, but it comes pretty close – and along the way it’s a hell of a ride.”
—Jimmy Carr, Stand-up comedian, television host, actor, and co-author of Only Joking: What’s So Funny About Making People Laugh?
“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, bestselling author of Decisive, Switch, and Made to Stick
“Humor is like happiness — universal but subjective. What’s great about The Humor Code is that it takes a scientific look at how humor differs across cultures yet vitally connecting us at the same time.”
—Jenn Lim, CEO and chief happiness officer of Delivering Happiness
“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, bestselling author of Drop Dead Healthy and The Year of Living Biblically
“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
“If you’ve ever been interested in trying comedy, this book will either scare you away from it or force you to do it. I consider both options a success.”
—Mike Drucker, stand-up comedian and writer for The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon
“Blending cutting-edge science and clever stories, The Humor Code will help you find a funnier world — whether you are on Twitter or not.”
—Claire Diaz-Ortiz, author of Twitter for Good and innovator at Twitter, Inc.
“If you’re doing business in the global marketplace, The Humor Code is a must read. Not only did I learn what makes things humorous around the world, now I understand why nobody in Japan ever laughed at my jokes!”
—Marty St. George, senior vice president of marketing, JetBlue Airways
“The Humor Code is a fun narrative of how a serious scientific theory is born, tested, and lived.”
—Ben Huh, CEO of The Cheezburger Network
“The Humor Code is a rollicking tour de farce that blends academic insights and amusing anecdotes to answer some of the most serious (and frivolous) questions about humor, from what makes us laugh and why we laugh at all, to how the world’s cultures came to have completely different senses of humor.”
—Adam Alter, assistant professor of marketing and psychology and bestselling author of Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave
“Spanning five-continents, McGraw and Warner’s quest for a unified field theory of funny may be quixotic but, like Don Q and Sancho, their misadventures are irresistible and their enthusiasm is as infectious as the laughter they chronicle. Together they manage to find the science in comedy and the comedy in science, and share it all with the reader in this playful Baedeker of humor.”
—Barnet Kellman, Emmy-Award winning director of Murphy Brown and Mad About You, professor of Cinema Arts at USC, and co-director of Comedy@SCA
“McGraw and Warner have done something quite remarkable and commendable. They’ve taken an intriguing question regarding the nature of humor and artfully mined answers from both the outcomes of scientific research and their own ‘world-wide comedy tour’ experiences. I’ve never seen anything like it.”
—Robert Cialdini, bestselling author of Influence
“A harrowing tale of men obsessed with understanding a gargantuan and enigmatic beast called Funny. This book might as well be titled “Moby Dick Jokes.”
—Baron Vaughn, stand-up comedian, as seen on Comedy Central, Conan, The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson and his podcast, Deep S##!
“Leave it to a reporter and a scientist to try to ruin something beautiful by dissecting it, and instead create something wonderful. The Humor Code is a tremendous book.”
—Shane Snow, technology journalist and author of Smartcuts
“Upon reading The Humor Code our initial reaction, as we’re sure will be many people’s initial reaction, was, ‘Where the %#!*$ is The Grawlix in all this? How can any legitimate search for the reasoning behind humor not begin, middle and end with The Grawlix?’ Heroically putting our hurt feelings aside, we read on, and were fascinated to learn that not only does the world of humor research exist beyond our limited horizons, so too does humor itself! From hysterical laughing epidemics in Africa; to controversial sketch comedy in Palestine; to our sworn enemies, clowns, dispatched to South America, the search for what makes things funny was one we found we could not stop reading. In the end we came to the same conclusion most people will no doubt come to after reading this book: Japanese people are weird. Two thumbs up (Andrew hated it).”
—The Grawlix (comedians Adam Cayton-Holland, Andrew Orvedahl, and Ben Roy)