Monday, April 2, 2012

Who's funnier --- women or men?

          According to research by Dr. Laura Mickes of the University of California, San Diego, both men and women believe men are funnier. Much funnier. These were the results of a blind test, in which the sex of the joke teller was hidden. Nobody can explain the results.

          At first, the researchers speculated it was the "peacock effect", something to attract the opposite sex. In other words, seduction with a punch line.

          Going further, they researched which sex was better at creating humor. Again, both men and women chose men. Mostly, men picked other men. Goodbye, peacock. Maybe men are just bigger show-offs.

          Humor has had an especially welcome place in advertising since "the Golden Days" in the '60s and early '70s. Those were the days of the Alka-Seltzer commercials about the bride who makes a heart-shaped meatloaf for the first dinner at home. The guy who's up all night moaning, "I can't believe I ate the whole thing". The pean to all kinds of midsections with the line, "No matter what shape your stomach is in".

          They were also the days of Benson and Hedges cigarettes, and the disadvantages of a longer cigarette. And the commercial where a silly man tries to swipe some Cracker Jacks from a very smart kid.

          Today, of course, every other commercial is trying, usually unsuccessfully, to make us laugh. There are some serious reasons for this.

          First, humor is a very good way to engage us. We love being entertained, and above all, we like to laugh. If an advertisement isn't engaging, all is lost. Second, a laugh is a lovely way to reward people for paying attention to our commercial messages. It's only fair. We show up, uninvited and unannounced, to their TVs or their computers. Leave them laughing and they might be grateful and not sore. And third,  if the story is told properly, when you remember the joke, you'll remember the product and its advantages.

          Of course, nothing can backfire faster than a bad joke, an off-color joke, or a joke told too often.

          Which is why I'd better not ask how Dr Mickes hid the sex of those joke tellers.

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