Note: this page has been translated into Finnish by Fijavan Brenk.
I have started on my next big question: Can science make people funnier?
It is important for me to (first) show that people can become funnier either on their own or with help. For example, standup comedians hone their craft over years of trial and error, and improvisers learn the ticks of the trade at UCB, Groundlings and Second City.
When I was on sabbatical at the University of Melbourne, I was telling one of the administrators about my research, and she told me that her husband got funnier – with a little help from her. I asked her if she would contribute by telling me what happened.
Here is Denise Simon’s story (in her words):
I was born in Egypt of European parents. The culture in Alexandria ranged from people with very good education and others who had to go to work early in their lives to be able to survive various hardships. Everyone had stories, good and bad.
I remember when my parents entertained or were being entertained there was always a lot of laughter, slightly off colour humour which I did not understand at the time but caught the fact that it was naughty, and people seemed to mix according to their language/backgrounds rather than mental capacity/interests/achievements or education. So the medium for communication that seem to cover everything was humour.
I’ve been in Australia since 1960 and in 1973 I met my partner who was a Swiss German from Basle. I realised very quickly that his “sense of humour” had a Germanic flavour.
As my partner had learnt English in an intensive English business course at Cambridge University in the UK, he tended to sound like a commercial handbook when he spoke. So when we moved in together I set about firstly trying to improve his English/vocabulary by playing Scrabble every night and then trying to get him to see humour in a new light.
I borrowed a lot of library books on Jewish humour – Jews are usually sort of self-deprecating and able to laugh at themselves, English humour which is subtle and dry and catches you by surprise.
I scattered the books around the apartment and from time to time I would hear chortling or guffaw and because my partner was extremely intelligent and accomplished in so many aspects, he caught on extremely quickly and it was not long before he developed his own style of wisecracks and made extremely original funny remarks.
So in conclusion I feel that although you may not have humour in your DNA/upbringing, provided you are reasonably intelligent and surrounded by examples/information, it can be learnt and it can be developed to some degree.
See! What is your story about becoming funnier? Tell me, and I will likely publish it.