Before our human ancestors could talk with each other, laughter was a simpler method of communication, he tells WebMD. It's also instinctual.
So we know it's not a learned behavior. Humans are hardwired for laughter.
The cynical answer is that sitcoms are so witless and unfunny that we need to be told where the jokes are. But this misses the point. Why does hearing other people laugh make us more likely to laugh ourselves? Everyone's experienced this on a small scale. Seeing someone in hysterics -- even if you don't know who the person is or why she's laughing -- can set you laughing too.
The answer lies in the evolutionary function of laughter. Laughter is social; it's not a solo activity, says Provine. You might assume that the 'purpose' of a laugh is to express yourself -- to let people know that you think something is funny. But according to a article published in the Quarterly Review of Biology , the primary function of laughter may not be self-expression.
Instead, the purpose of a laugh could be to trigger positive feelings in other people. When you laugh, the people around you might start laughing in response. Soon, the whole group is cheerful and relaxed. Laughter can ease tension and foster a sense of group unity. This could have been particularly important for small groups of early humans. In some cases, laughter can in fact become literally contagious.
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History is dotted with accounts of laughter epidemics. In , in the African country that is now Tanzania, three school girls began to laugh uncontrollably. The contagion spread, and eventually affected about a thousand people in Tanzania and neighboring Uganda. There were no long-lasting effects, but it shows how responsive people can be to seeing another person laugh.
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So sitcoms -- or anything else -- seem funnier to us when we hear other people laughing at them. We've evolved to be that way. Clearly, there are many different types of laughter. The explosion of laughter after being tickled is obviously different from the tight-lipped chuckle you force out of yourself when your boss tells a bad joke.
To account for the differences, some researchers divide laughter into two groups. The first includes spontaneous laughter. The other group includes laughter that is less spontaneous: it includes fake laughter, nervous laughter, and other social laughter that is unconnected to humor. Some argue that this nonspontaneous laughter might also include a diabolical cackle or the cruel, jeering laughter that we once heard on the playground. Sometimes, those bonds can be used to exclude or persecute others.
According to some researchers, these two types of laughter -- spontaneous and nonspontaneous -- actually have different origins in the brain. The spontaneous laughter originates in part from the brainstem, an ancient part of the brain. So it might be a more original form of laughter. The other type of laughter comes from parts of the brain that developed more recently, in evolutionary terms. Your kids will ask you to read this one again and again. Even the title of this one is enough to get you chuckling always a good sign.
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But Rex and Campbell seal the deal with a seriously side-splitting setup that involves poor Ox who keeps writing heartfelt love letters to the increasingly exasperated and conceited Gazelle. The dueling letters format of the book makes this a perfect book for out-loud performance reading. As Al trots out every cheesy sales trick there is, you can feel yourself falling into your best used car salesman impression, making for an extremely fun bedtime reading performance. Just remember — you broke it, you bought it.
This clever riff on the classic Dick and Jane primers is like a comedy master class for kids. Stand-up comics, comedians and slapstick work with comic timing , precision and rhythm in their performance, relying as much on actions as on the verbal punchline to evoke laughter. This distinction has been formulated in the popular saying "A comic says funny things; a comedian says things funny".
Any joke documented from the past has been saved through happenstance rather than design.
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Jokes do not belong to refined culture, but rather to the entertainment and leisure of all classes. As such, any printed versions were considered ephemera , i. Many of these early jokes deal with scatological and sexual topics, entertaining to all social classes but not to be valued and saved.
Various kinds of jokes have been identified in ancient pre- classical texts. The second oldest joke found, discovered on the Westcar Papyrus and believed to be about Sneferu , was from Ancient Egypt circa BC: "How do you entertain a bored pharaoh? You sail a boatload of young women dressed only in fishing nets down the Nile and urge the pharaoh to go catch a fish.
This is a comic triple dating back to BC Adab. The king seeks advice from a priestess on how to rule the case, and she suggests a series of events involving the men's households and wives. Unfortunately, the final portion of the story which included the punch line , has not survived intact, though legible fragments suggest it was bawdy in nature. The earliest extant joke book is the Philogelos Greek for The Laughter-Lover , a collection of jokes written in crude ancient Greek dating to the fourth or fifth century AD.
During the 15th century ,  the printing revolution spread across Europe following the development of the movable type printing press.
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This was coupled with the growth of literacy in all social classes. Printers turned out Jestbooks along with Bibles to meet both lowbrow and highbrow interests of the populace. One early anthology of jokes was the Facetiae by the Italian Poggio Bracciolini , first published in The popularity of this jest book can be measured on the twenty editions of the book documented alone for the 15th century. Another popular form was a collection of jests, jokes and funny situations attributed to a single character in a more connected, narrative form of the picaresque novel.
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There is also a jest book ascribed to William Shakespeare , the contents of which appear to both inform and borrow from his plays. All of these early jestbooks corroborate both the rise in the literacy of the European populations and the general quest for leisure activities during the Renaissance in Europe. The practice of printers to use jokes and cartoons as page fillers was also widely used in the broadsides and chapbooks of the 19th century and earlier. With the increase in literacy in the general population and the growth of the printing industry, these publications were the most common forms of printed material between the 16th and 19th centuries throughout Europe and North America.
Along with reports of events, executions, ballads and verse, they also contained jokes. Only one of many broadsides archived in the Harvard library is described as " With many other descriptions of wit and humour. There are many types of joke books in print today; a search on the internet provides a plethora of titles available for purchase. They can be read alone for solitary entertainment, or used to stock up on new jokes to entertain friends.
Some people try to find a deeper meaning in jokes, as in "Plato and a Platypus Walk into a Bar Understanding Philosophy Through Jokes". Reader's Digest closes out many articles with an unrelated joke at the bottom of the article. The New Yorker was first published in with the stated goal of being a "sophisticated humour magazine" and is still known for its cartoons. Telling a joke is a cooperative effort;   it requires that the teller and the audience mutually agree in one form or another to understand the narrative which follows as a joke.
In a study of conversation analysis , the sociologist Harvey Sacks describes in detail the sequential organisation in the telling a single joke. Who is telling what jokes to whom?