Confusing comedy and puzzling punchlines - Top 10 Jokes that amuse and confuse in equal measure

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Friday 5 March 2021

Top 10 jokes that amuse and confuse in equal measure

New study shines a spotlight on why some people 'get the joke' whilst others are left 'scratching their heads'

  • Neuroscientist and comedy expert Dr Helen Pilcher reveals why jokes can leave half of us laughing - but the rest puzzled by the punchline
  • Ability to get gags can vary greatly between people, depending on culture, context and brain activity
  • Jokes relying on unfamiliar concepts and word play are trickiest to understand
  • Two thirds of Brits baffled by a joke will pretend to find it funny to fit in
  • Study commissioned by TV channel Gold to celebrate launch of new retrospective The Vicar of Dibley: Inside Out on Saturday 6th March

"How do you drown a Hipster? In the mainstream" is the joke most likely to amuse and confuse Brits in equal measure, new research reveals.

"Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana" and "a jar of Omega 3 vitamins fell on my head when I opened the cupboard. I sustained super fish oil injuries" are also gags that split Brits down the middle with half howling in laughter - but the rest left scratching their heads.

The report and research by renowned neuroscientist and comedy expert Dr Helen Pilcher tested a series of jokes on 2,000 adults and reveals the science explaining why some jokes are not universally understood.

The study was specially commissioned by TV channel Gold to celebrate The Vicar of Dibley: Inside Out, a new retrospective special revealing what went on behind the scenes of the award-winning BBC series, airing on Saturday 6th March.

The research was inspired by the end scenes of each episode which sees Geraldine's attempt to tell Alice a joke fall flat, as she fails to understand the punchline and needs an explanation.

Dr Pilcher identified variables that determine how much of the humour individuals get, with factors including their age, upbringing, personal and cultural background and life experiences.

Top 10 jokes that amuse and confuse in equal measure according to British adults:

  1. How do you drown a Hipster? In the mainstream (46%)

  2. Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana (45%)

  3. A jar of Omega 3 vitamins fell on my head when I opened the cupboard. I sustained super fish oil injuries (40%)

  4. How do you milk sheep? With iPhone accessories (38%)

  5. How many surrealists does it take to screw in a light bulb? A fish (36%)

  6. What do accountants do when they're constipated? They work it out with a pencil (35%)

  7. A cowboy asked me if I could help him round up 18 cows. I said, 'Yes, of course. That's 20 cows' (30%)

  8. A horse walks into a bar and the barman says "Hey, why the long face?" (29%)

  9. What does a dyslexic, agnostic, insomniac do at night? He stays up wondering if there really is a dog (28%)

  10. I'm very pleased with my new fridge magnet. So far, I've got 12 fridges (18%)

The type of comedy most likely to confuse is jokes based on unfamiliar concepts and word play, Dr Pilcher found.

The report also reveals that over six in ten Brits like to think they are quick-witted despite seven in ten actually often needing to have a joke explained to them.

Rather than look silly, over two thirds (67%) admit they will laugh at jokes they don't understand to fit in and over half (56%) have had to look up the meaning of a joke when slow on the uptake. The same number (56%) have even re-told jokes without understanding the punchline.

Dr Pilcher's report explores why jokes such as 'How do you drown a Hipster? In the mainstream' divide the nation, concluding that the joke involves both cultural context and the understanding of wordplay. In order to understand the joke, the listener needs three things.

First, the listener needs some background knowledge; an understanding of the terms 'hipster' and 'mainstream.' Second, the listener needs an understanding that hipsters are perceived to be anti-mainstream. Finally, the listener needs to spot the double meaning within the word 'mainstream;' it's both a body of water and a set of values.

Dr Pilcher said:

Laughter is universal but humour is immensely subjective and although people all over the world enjoy a good joke what they find funny varies according to a number of things, such as culture, context and language.

Brain activity is also implicated. The brain contains billions of neurons, and can process large amounts of information in very short time periods. For some people, all the elements of a joke come together in an instant and they 'get' the joke, but if any of the elements are missing, then the joke falls flat, much like in The Vicar of Dibley when Alice fails to understand any of Geraldine's jokes.

Gerald Casey, Gold channel director, said:

At the end of every episode of The Vicar of Dibley, Geraldine shares a joke with Alice and whilst deemed funny by Geraldine, Alice always fails to understand the punchline. We wanted to commemorate this iconic show by revealing just how subjective humour and jokes can be.

The poll also revealed the top 10 jokes from the end scenes of The Vicar of Dibley, famed for the punchline falling flat when Alice fails to understand jokes told by Dawn French's character Geraldine.

Top 10 funniest jokes from The Vicar of Dibley:

  1. Two nuns are driving through Transylvania when a great big vampire jumps on the bonnet. One nun says to the other 'show him your cross'. So, the nun opens the window and yells: 'get off my bonnet you toothy git!' (62%)

  2. There's a Vicar playing golf with his friend John. John misses a three-foot putt, and he says: "Dammit, I missed the bugger". The Vicar tuts and says "John, if you say that once more then God will open up the heavens and send a thunderbolt to strike you dead". But then John misses a two-foot putt, and he says: "Dammit, I missed the bugger." So, the heavens open a great big thunderbolt comes down and strikes the Vicar dead and God says "Dammit, I missed the bugger" (52%)

  3. What happens if you cross a turkey with and octopus? Everyone gets a leg at Christmas (47%)

  4. Why did the lobster blush? Because the sea weed (47%)

  5. Santa Claus goes to the doctor and says 'doctor, I think I've got a mince pie stuck up my bottom'. The doctor looks and says 'oh dear, you do indeed have a mince pie stuck up your bottom. But you're in luck - I've got some cream for that' (46%)

  6. They've come up with a new low-fat communion wafer. It's called 'I can't believe it's not Jesus' (46%)

  7. What do you get if you eat too many Christmas decorations? Tinsellitis (40%)

  8. What do you call a budgie that's been run over by lawnmower? Shredded Tweet (39%)

  9. Knock knock - Who's there? - OJ - OJ who? - OK! You can be on the jury (37%)

  10. What do accountants do when they're constipated? They work it out with a pencil (33%)

The Vicar of Dibley: Inside Out launches on TV channel Gold on Saturday 6th March at 9pm.



Notes for Editors:

About Gold

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About Helen Pilcher

Dr Helen Pilcher is a scientist, comedian and writer, whose work often bridges the gap between science and humour. Her first book, 'Bring Back the King - the New Science of De-extinction' was Radio 2's Fact Not Fiction Book of the Week, and it has been described as 'science at its funniest.' Her research portfolio is varied and eclectic. She has a PhD in Neuroscience and has studied Alzheimer's disease.

Keep up to date with Helen:

Twitter: @helenpilcher1 Website: