“They” have been saying all my life that in literature there are only seven basic plots. In the past decade – or maybe more – I’ve come to believe that there are only seven basic jokes.
Like many women I’ve known, I can’t remember jokes to be able to repeat them myself, but I am a good appreciator. For me to laugh out loud, however, a surprise is usually required, a punch line that was not anticipated and hits me out of the blue. I love it when that happens.
But there don’t seem to be many those these days. More and more frequently, it’s an old punch line attached to a new circumstance and I can see it coming in the early set up. Thus, my theory that there may be only seven basic jokes and I’ve lived long enough now to have heard them all too many times.
Now comes a study from Washington University at St. Louis that suggests
“…because older adults may have greater difficulty with cognitive flexibility, abstract reasoning and short-term memory, they also have greater difficulty with tests of humor comprehension.”
- Washington Post, 10 July 2007
Let’s ignore the fact that recent brain studies I’ve read report that because old people make greater use of both sides of their brains simultaneously than younger folks, their abstract reasoning gets better with age. But this was not a brain study. It was a test asking participants in multiple choice questions to choose the correct punch line, and to “choose between [sic] four panels to find the funny ending” in Ferd’nand cartoons. The results
“…showed that the younger adults did 6 percent better on the verbal jokes and 14 percent better on the comic portion than did older participants…”
Although I’m not much impressed with six and 14 percent differences between young and old, could it be that the participating elders just didn’t find the jokes or Ferd’nand (which was never a particularly clever cartoon) funny? It’s not possible to know since we don’t have the jokes or the cartoons to make a judgment. However, one of the researchers said,
"This wasn't a study about what people find funny. It was a study about whether they get what's supposed to be funny…"
It has been a too-common joke in sitcoms for decades that old folks don’t get it, what ever “it” may be. Maybe it’s true and we just can’t help it because of all the brain dysfunction these joke researchers believe elders are afflicted with. But I still think there are few jokes I haven’t heard before.
[At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Jo Ann tells of a trend she has uncovered in "Tick Epidemic - Nude Humor Everywhere".]