Two recent articles both cite Robert Provine (who has been mentioned here before in an earlier post) in a discussion of why good jokes are hard to remember. Natalie Angier’s column in the New York Times is more generally about human memory; from her we get the following:
Really great jokes . . . work not by conforming to pattern recognition routines but by subverting them. “Jokes work because they deal with the unexpected, starting in one direction and then veering off into another,” said Robert Provine, a professor of psychology at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and the author of “Laughter: A Scientific Investigation.” “What makes a joke successful are the same properties that can make it difficult to remember.”
This may also explain why the jokes we tend to remember are often the most clichéd ones.
The other article supplies the following:
Examples of a bad joke:
What do you call a judge with no thumbs? Justice Fingers
Why do cows have bells? Because their horns don’t work.
Examples of a better joke:
A linguistics professor was lecturing his class one day.
“In English”, he said, “A double negative forms a positive. In some languages, though, such as Russian, a double negative is still a negative. However, there is no language wherein a double positive can form a negative.”
A loud voice from the back of the room piped up, “Yeah, right.”