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Where Do Jokes Come From And How Do They Evolve?

Jokes go through so many changes but who invents them?

IMPROV Comedy Club

Photo: Ed Schipul (Flickr)

Comedians are masters at creating jokes and punchlines.

Did you ever make up a joke? I mean entirely, start to finish, not using anybody else’s ideas or repeating something you’ve heard before? Not just filling in the blanks, as in the “knock knock” variety, or retelling a funny story?

Did You Yourself Ever Make Up A Joke?

Once I put those restrictions on you, your first answer of “yes” probably became “well, not really.” Or, if you still said “yes,” I bet you only made up one, a few years ago.

That’s interesting, because there are literally thousands of jokes floating around, all the time. The internet is full of jokes. Go to a party any weekend and you might hear several new jokes.

Where Are They All Coming From?

Some people, like comedians, actually sit down and invent jokes. But the neat thing is that most jokes come about without anyone inventing them.

Joke Evolution

Philosopher of science Daniel Dennett uses jokes as an example of how evolution works. Let’s say the President does something embarrassing. Someone comments on it in a funny way.

Someone else repeats the comment with an embellishment to make it funnier. Someone else turns it into “What does the President say when…?” And so on. Jokes evolve.

What’s The Punchline?

This is why you run across so many jokes you’ve heard before, though you may not know it until the punchline.

They’ve gone through so many changes you may not recognize them at all. Then suddenly you say “Oh, I’ve heard this.” What you actually heard was a kind of joke ancestor.

  • Pingback: Jokes Can Help Explain Evolution | A Moment of Science - Indiana Public Media

  • Andrew

    heres my joke… a german walked into a library and asked for a book on war, 
    The libarian replied “no mate, you’ll lose it”

  • Andrew

    no offence to any1 german..

  • Andy

    This is a serious thing, so this is honestly only a joke, and i suffer from depression which can cause this. So anyhow. Im sorry

    A man walks into a library and asks the woman ‘got any books on suicide?’ the librarian Replied ‘fuck off mate, you won’t bring it back’

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