Why are jokes funny?

Lydia Chilton

University of Washington

This project was funded on:
17 March 2013
The first step of my research is to come up with theories for why jokes are funny.

Next we will test those theories on thousands of jokes.

Once we test theories for why jokes are funny, we can use those theories to improve old jokes and make new ones.

What are the goals of this project?

My goal is to collect and test hundreds of theories for why jokes are funny. Because jokes are a fundamentally human phenomenon, we need to use people to test these theories. This technique is called crowdsourcing: using a crowd of people to solve problems a computer can't. Crowdsourcing is what built Wikipedia.

I am an expert in crowdsourcing. We will use the crowd to analyse jokes. So far, no one has leveraged massive datasets of human judgement to crack the question of why jokes are funny. I want to use the crowd to help us understand humor.

Why is this research important?

Studying jokes is a way to study intelligence Our ability to "get" jokes is a perfect example of our complex linguistic, social, and reasoning skills. Right now, we think of jokes as a mysterious curiosity of language. But they're not. There are recurring features in jokes such as insult (lawyer jokes, blonde jokes, etc.) leaving out information and allowing listeners to connect the dots ("Never taking a sleeping pill and a laxative on the same night"). To understand jokes we just have to identity these recurring features and test them out on hundreds of jokes. Then we will know what high-level linguistic features are important to jokes and to intelligence.

How will the funds be used?

I am raising money to pay hundreds on workers on Mechanical Turk to analyze thousands of jokes. Stay tuned!


Budget Overview

To fund this project, I will need money for mechanical turk experiments, web hosting, and the purchase of domain names.

Meet the Researcher


I'm getting my PhD in Computer Science at the University of Washington. My work focuses on crowdsourcing. In the next 10 years, crowdsourcing is going to change education, labor markets, information architecture, and the way we waste our time online.

If you want to help

Contact Lydia

Project Backers

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