There are three vital ingredients for a funny joke: a twist, a controversial subject and a feeling of superiority. But even more important is the way that you deliver it.

The funniest joke in the world

This joke was voted top of 40,000 entries in a project for the British Science Association:

“Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps, ‘My friend is dead! What can I do?’ The operator says, ‘Calm down, I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.’ There’s silence, then a shot rings out. Back on the phone, the guy says, ‘OK, now what?’ ”

DO use the three ingredients of humour. If your friends aren’t chortling when you tell the joke above, it can’t be the joke—which contains the three vital elements needed for humour, says psychologist Richard Wiseman: it surprises us with a twist; it makes us feel superior; and it relieves anxiety about subjects such as sex or death. So what’s gone wrong?

DON'T try too hard. “Although you’re giving a performance, it needs to come over as conversation,” says stand-up comedian and lecturer Olly Double, author of Britain Had Talent, a history of variety. A hesitant delivery is equally off-putting. “If you’re in control, you’ll take the audience with you, even if you pause for effect,” says Double.

DO pick the right moment. “There are few situations where jokes are totally inappropriate, but you need to tune your laughter radar or the joke will fall flat,” he warns.

DON't tell a joke that people have heard many times before—a danger with every joke, from shaggy-dog stories to one-liners such as, “Who gives kids a bad name… Posh and Becks.” Better to make up your own when inspiration strikes. “Some of the funniest jokes come from the immediate situation, because the people around you are involved and it has meaning for them,” says Double. Then take a tip from Jack Dee and deliver it deadpan, so you won’t lose face if no one laughs.

If all else fails, copy a great. We recommend Tommy Cooper, buy the box set here.

 

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