What makes something funny?

Why does humor exist in the first place? In “Sex, Aggression, and Humour: Responses to Unicycling” (one of the greatest titles ever to come out of academe), a British researcher proposed that humor may be a by-product of male hormonal aggression, a hypothesis inspired by the overwhelming percentage of men who mocked him while he was out riding his unicycle. (Women were much more supportive.) He conceded, however, that further research was needed: “Direct endocrine confirmation would require studies not available to a unicyclist.” [4]

A more sweeping theory posits that humor is an evolutionary adaptation that has promoted human survival by rewarding our relatively feeble minds for distinguishing true from false, right from wrong, and harmless from dangerous over countless harrowing and deeply confusing centuries. [5]

Where do things go from here? Canadian and Australian researchers are working on a “quantum theory of humor,” [6] computer scientists are exploring whether artificial intelligence can recognize and create funny images, [7] and an army of Silicon Valley technologists and moonlighting comedy writers is striving to build authentically funny chatbots. In the meantime, we may as well enjoy what we enjoy, and dodge the flying frog guts as best we can.