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Jokes Can Make You Look More Competent at Work

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To make yourself seem like a more competent person around the office, you should do a little stand-up at the water cooler, according to a new study spotted by BPS Research Digest. But be sure to judge your audience well, because an ill-timed or misguided attempt at humor could land you in hot water.

In a study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology [PDF], researchers from the Wharton School and Harvard Business School discovered, through eight different experiments, that humor can signal confidence, whether the jokes land or not. And perceptions of confidence tend to make people see others as competent. But if the jokes were inappropriate (rather than neutral or just badly told), people found the joke-teller to be less competent, harming his or her status in the group.

First, researchers used a pool of 457 people to determine how appropriate people perceived nine different jokes to be. They then used these results in a series of subsequent experiments, which involved participants being serious or humorous in front of an audience, telling different jokes that were either funny or not funny, and manipulating audience laughter to see if people responded differently to comments they thought other people found funny.

“Successful joke tellers are viewed as higher in confidence, competence, and status, and are more likely to be nominated as group leaders,” they concluded. They found if the jokes were inappropriate (the "that's what she said" variety of joke did not fare well), however, or if no one laughed at them, it could decrease the status of the teller, making people see them as less competent.

The researchers’ advice is to proceed carefully in risky social situations. “It is possible that the contexts in which humor may be most beneficial are also those in which humor is fraught with risk," they write. “Ultimately, our prescriptive advice is to use humor with caution.”

[h/t BPS Research Digest]

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The Funniest Word in the English Language? 'Booty,' According to New Survey
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Some words, regardless of their meaning, are simply more chuckle-worthy than others. To determine which expressions in the English language are truly the most comical, Smithsonian reports that psychologists at the University of Warwick in the UK conducted a survey in which they asked people to rate the “humor value” of a sampling of chosen words. They recently published their findings in the journal Behavior Research Methods.

The researchers selected nearly 5000 words, and then used Amazon’s online crowdsourcing tool Mechanical Turk to ask more than 800 individuals to rank the humor value of 211 randomly chosen words from the list, on a scale from 1 (humorless) to 5 (humorous). Likely not surprising to anyone with younger siblings, the funniest word ended up being “booty,” with an average ranking of 4.32. In descending order, the remaining top 12 words—which all received a score of 3.9 or higher—were “tit,” “booby,” “hooter,” “nitwit,” “twit,” “waddle,” “tinkle,” “bebop,” “egghead,” “ass,” and “twerp.”

Why these words are so funny remains fuzzy. But when they analyzed their findings according to age and gender, the researchers did find that sexually suggestive words like “orgy” and “bondage” tended to tickle the funny bones of men, as did the words “birthmark,” “brand,” “chauffeur,” “doze,” “buzzard,” “czar,” “weld,” “prod,” “corn,” and “raccoon.”

Meanwhile, women tended to laugh at the words “giggle,” “beast,” “circus,” “grand,” “juju,” “humbug,” “slicker,” “sweat,” “ennui,” “holder,” “momma,” and “sod.” As for people under the age of 32, they were amused by “goatee,” “joint,” and “gangster,” while older participants liked “squint,” “jingle,” “burlesque,” and “pong.” Across the board, all parties were least amused by words like “rape,” “torture,” and “torment.”

Although humor is complex and dependent on elements like syntax and delivery, the study's researchers say that breaking comedy down to single-word units could demystify its essence.

“The research initially came about as a result of our curiosity,” said Tomas Engelthaler, the study’s lead author, in a press release. “We were wondering if certain words are perceived as funnier, even when read on their own. It turns out that indeed is the case. Humor is an everyday aspects of our lives and we hope this publicly available dataset allows future researchers to better understand its foundations.”

[h/t Smithsonian]

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Watch the Original Spinal Tap Short Film
Chris Weeks // Staff // Getty Images
Chris Weeks // Staff // Getty Images

Spinal Tap formed in 1979, five years before the classic film This is Spinal Tap premiered. They performed on TV and began developing their personas as idiotic heavy metal monsters.

When the band, along with director Rob Reiner, went to pitch their mockumentary to production companies, nobody "got it." It wasn't clear what an unscripted comedy pseudo-documentary would feel like. So Reiner asked for the screenplay fee—$60,000—to be paid up front as a budget for a short proof-of-concept film.

That skimpy budget went a very long way, allowing the group to produce The Last Tour, a 20-minute Spinal Tap film exploring some of the plot (and many of the songs) that appeared in the later film This is Spinal Tap. There's a surprising amount of concert footage, as various bits that were repeated in Tap (some interview clips were even used in Tap unaltered).

The Last Tour is delightful because it shows a well-developed idea being implemented on the cheap. The wigs are terrible, the sound is spotty, but the vision is spot-on. The characters and the core story of the group (including a string of dead drummers) is already in place, and we get to see the guys improvise together. Tune in (and be aware there's plenty of salty language here):

(Note: Around 4:38 in the clip above, we see Ed Begley, Jr. as original drummer John "Stumpy" Pepys in the "Gimme Some Money" video. Stumpy died in a gardening accident, of course.)

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