The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

Opinion

June 11, 2011

One nation, under God, and funnier than most

We’re No. 1.

We already knew that, of course. Americans, I mean. We’re the best in the world. We have achieved the pinnacle. We are the top dogs.

We occasionally get our comeuppance when it comes to sports like soccer and events like the Olympics, and we owe money to everybody around, rather like the neighborhood moocher, but we are still the best.

At humor, that is.

A social network and dating website called Badoo.com asked 30,000 people in 15 nations what countries were the funniest.

Not in terms of a nation being a global laughing stock, but the country deemed best at making people laugh.

The United States came out on top, with Spain second and Italy third.

The least funny country? Germany, followed by Russia and Turkey.

That seems to prove Mark Twain knew what he was talking about when he said “A German joke is no laughing matter.”

So what makes Americans so funny? Perhaps it is the fact we don’t take ourselves too seriously.

We are constantly poking fun at ourselves.

There are any number of jokes about Americans, written and told by Americans.

For instance, only in America do people order double cheeseburgers, large fries and a diet Coke.

Only in America do we leave our cars worth thousands of dollars in the driveway but fill our garage with useless junk.

In 2002, a British psychologist set out to find the funniest joke in the world. Here is the winner:

“Two hunters are out in the woods and one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy takes out his phone and calls 911.

“He gasps, ‘My friend is dead! What can I do?’ The 911 operator says ‘Calm down, I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.’ There is silence, then the sound of a gunshot. Then the hunter comes back on the line and says, ‘OK, now what?’”

If you didn’t find that funny, blame me. I likely screwed up the punch line. I am a rotten joke-teller.

I either forget the punch line halfway through, or I start laughing before I get to the punch line and mess up the whole thing.

By the time I say, “Oh, wait, I got that wrong,” for the third time, anyone within earshot has likely fled.

When I was a child I heard a joke somewhere and decided to tell my father. It may have been the first joke I ever told him.

It involved a door-to-door toilet seat salesman and a homeowner.

The homeowner buys a musical toilet seat and the salesman promises to return the next day to make sure the customer was satisfied with his purchase.

The next day, true to his word, the salesman returns.

“How did you like the musical toilet seat?” the salesman asks.

“Awful,” the customer answers. “Take it back.”

“What?” the salesman says, “you are my first unsatisfied customer ever. What was the problem?”

“Every time I sit down to go, it starts playing the Star-Spangled Banner and I have to stand up and salute. I can’t seem to get anything done.”

Dad didn’t laugh. Instead he gently but firmly upbraided me about my choice of material.

So I told him another joke. “What did one eye say to the other eye? There’s something between us that smells.”

He didn’t laugh at that, either, but at least he didn’t chew me out again.

Laughter is an instinctive behavior, scientists have found, rather than a learned one.

Laughter is contagious. We are more likely to laugh when we see and hear someone else laugh than when we are by ourselves.

There are two forms of laughter — spontaneous and nonspontaneous.

Spontaneous laughter originates in the brain stem, while nonspontaneous laughter originates in the hypothalamus, which sounds funny in itself.

Laughter is good for us, it reduces stress, boosts our immune system and improves our mental health.

But why is something funny to one person and not to another?

The Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado has pinpointed something it calls the Benign Violation Theory.

One example of a benign violation of accepted morality presented by Humor Research Lab scientists is the mother of the bride stealing money from the tip jar of the servers and bartenders at her daughter’s wedding reception.

Another would be the Jimmy Dean sausage folks hiring a rabbi as its spokesman for its new line of pork products.

I guess you had to be there.

Perhaps humor is one of those things that we are better off not dissecting. Funny is funny, let’s leave it at that.

One of the funniest things I’ve heard in some time is not a joke, but a news story that came across the wires earlier this week.

It seems a Washington state man was in his apartment when another man burst in.

The intruder was carrying what appeared to be a dead weasel.

“Why are you carrying a weasel?” the apartment-dweller asked.

The attacker, according to police, answered “It’s not a weasel, it’s a marten,” then punched the other man in the face and ran away. He left the carcass of the animal behind.

In a bit of breaking news, police now say the animal was neither weasel nor marten, but a mink.

“Why are you carrying a weasel?”

Only in America. No wonder we’re No. 1.

Mullin is senior writer of the News & Eagle. E-mail him at jmullin@enidnews.com.

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