THE HUMOR CODE by Peter McGraw


A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny
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A freelance journalist and a professor hop around the globe cracking and waxing wise about humor.

McGraw (Marketing and Psychology/Univ. of Colorado) and former Westword staff writer Warner both contribute to the content, but the voice belongs to Warner, who employs the first person throughout—and tries (sometimes successfully) to show us what a funny guy he is. At the beginning, the authors provide an origin story (how the two met) and describe how they decided to team up to explore the world of humor. McGraw heads the Humor Research Lab, a research project at Colorado, and he has developed a theory that humor is based on what he calls a “benign violation”: Something seems wrong, threatening, whatever—but isn’t. As the two hopped, skipped and jumped around the country and the world, they didn’t discover much to invalidate his theory. The authors mix memoir and discussions of academic research throughout, and they made some interesting journeys and scored some major interviews (one with Louis C.K., who seems less than thrilled with the opportunity). Among their visits, discussions and interviews: Las Vegas, a comedy club in Los Angeles, the New Yorker’s cartoon caption contest, a comedy writer in New York, Tanzania (where, back in 1962, there was a laughter epidemic in a school), Japan, Denmark (where the Muslim political cartoons ignited fiery protests abroad), Israel and Palestine, where the intrepid researchers explored perilous places that will both amaze readers and inspire their admiration. The authors also chronicle their trip to the Amazon in the company of the actual Patch Adams and a group of healing clowns, as well as a jaunt to Canada, where McGraw performed at a comedy festival and did…OK. He bombed a year earlier in Denver.

A brave attempt to blend research, memoir and humor, but the result is not always smooth.

Pub Date: April 1st, 2014
ISBN: 978-1-4516-6541-3
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2014


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