Monday, March 11, 2013

Why is falling so funny?

Somebody slips and falls, and you bust out laughing because you can't help yourself. Cruel? Maybe, but it also turns out that a good fall has the essential ingredients for laughter, says Associate Professor Peter McGraw of the University of Colorado Boulder.

Peter and his colleague Caleb Warren work at the Humor Research Lab (I know where I'm getting my PhD!) applying science to the world of humor. One theory of theirs, called the benign violation theory, proposes that something is funny if three conditions are met. First, ordinary life is somehow thrown off balance. Second, this violation is benign, meaning that no one gets hurt. Finally, these first two conditions must happen simultaneously. For example, a minor face plant on the trail is funny because it is (1) physically threatening AND (2) really quite harmless.

Another insight in their research is that "proximity is directly related to seriousness". If we see a stranger fall and break a finger, it's not funny, but if it's your best friend, it's hilarious. Similarly we wouldn't be able to laugh if a friend had a real-life tragedy, but when strangers do, it's all over YouTube and a candidate for the Darwin awards.That explains a lot!

So the next time you witness a world-class digger and bust out laughing, just tell them it's not your made you do it. Then post it on YouTube for the rest of us. ;-)

Props to Christie Aschwanden for the find!

And super kudos to Max King for his course record run at Way Too Cool 50k this weekend (3:08!), Meghan Arboghast on her win (4:06, outkicking Rory Bosio), and Gary Gellin on the Masters win (3:36, 6th overall). You guys ripped it up!


  1. Thank God he didn't go head first!

  2. This fits with a few other theories of humor:
    1. Something has to be unexpected to be funny.
    2. We laugh at things that equalize us (so it's particularly funny when someone very skilled or serious falls).

    Amazing that there's real academic research on what makes us laugh!

  3. That is a great video.
    I have seen it before and always get a good chuckle.


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