Study: Tell Bad Jokes at Your Own Risk

Breaking social contract with unfunny humor a good way to elicit 'impolite' response
By Drew Nelles,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 22, 2008 4:02 PM CDT

(Newser) – What did the researcher say to the reporter? Bad jokes are a good way to lose friends. A Washington State University linguist found lame humor tends to trigger serious hostility, the AP reports. The researcher had her students slip a bad joke into 207 conversations with friends, and 44% of the responses were considered, ahem, “impolite.”

"These were basically attacks intended to result in the social exclusion or humiliation of the speaker, punctuated on occasion with profanity, a nasty glare or even a solid punch to the arm," Nancy Bell says. She speculates that bad jokes get such extreme reactions because they disrupt conversation, violate the expectation that humor be funny, and insult the intelligence of the listener. (Read more humor stories.)

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