A few years ago, two researchers invited a dozen folks from an ad firm out for drinks at the Hurricane Club in New York. But this wasn’t a social call. It was an experiment in the relationship between drinking and humor.
The researchers were Joel Warner and Peter McGraw, a journalist and an academic, respectively, and the co-authors of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny (in bookstores April 1, naturally). The test subjects were members of the award-winning creative team from Grey New York, the firm behind E*Trade’s talking-baby ads. McGraw, an associate professor of marketing and psychology at the University of Colorado, explained to me the thinking behind the experiment: “We thought we’d take some people who were funny and see if we could make them funnier.”
The instructions to the subjects were straightforward: Come up with a gag. Have a drink. Repeat. After each round, the subjects were asked to rate their drunkenness on a seven-point scale ranging from “sober” to “shit-faced.” (McGraw admits that his study “will never make its way into a peer-reviewed journal.”) They were also asked to rate their own jokes, on a scale of “slightly amusing” to “hilarious.” The jokes were later judged independently by a sober online panel.
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