The Befouled Weakly News

24 December 2006

Thank you to everyone for all the fabulous Christmas and birthday cards – we adored the photograph of Amelie in her Christmas outfit; one small flaw – sitting on the beach in resplendent sunshine isn’t exactly the image of Christmas which we endure here although I suppose it’s perfectly in keeping on Bonzai Beach and/or Manhattan Beach.

One card in particular we were delighted to receive. It was a fairly straight-forward, traditional card although clearly from a superior supplier to judge by its weight and feel. The great thing about it, however, is that it was utterly denude of any greeting or signature – someone was clearly having a “senior moment”. Either that or they were trying, somewhat subtly, to tell us that we were off their Christmas list. The worrying thing about it, of course, is that without a signature or any indication of who sent it, we don’t know if we have reciprocated? Was this from one of the many households which we decided to eliminate from our list in this year’s annual cull?

The other item which came through our doorway of a similar nature was a parcel addressed to Penny and Greg Stragnell, 23 Banbury Road, etc., from Giacobazzi’s Delicatessen. Again, no indication (on the outside at least) of whom it was from. Thinking it might possibly contain some perishable items, I insisted that we open it; Ms Playchute provided the counter perspective. Since we wanted to know who it was from and as there was no indication on the exterior, as I say, I finally persuaded her that we really should open it now. You guessed it – no indication on the inside of the parcel either. So, if anyone out there has sent (a) a Christmas card with no greeting or signature, many thanks indeed and we hope we haven’t left you off our Christmas list or (b) a parcel from Giacobazzi’s Delicatessen, many, many thanks indeed.

STOP PRESS: The case of the mystery Christmas parcel has been resolved. Our enquiries and investigations have revealed the generous source of the parcel for which we are very appreciative indeed.

I hope our Christmas cards will have reached all of you by now; if not, well, they are “in the post.” As always, we were a bit tardy but equally, as always, there is a version on the web site in case yours hasn’t arrived. And, in any case, the version on the web site has additional photographs which didn’t make it into the printed version due to space limitations. So, point your browser at and enjoy.

Had a very fine day on Friday – thank you to those who marked the occasion with cards, phone calls and/or kind thoughts. Having compelled Ms Playchute to entertain a wide variety of guests and acquaintances over the previous couple of years, this year I invited only Nick and Lucy to my “birthday party”. I’m not sure that this reduced Ms Playchute’s responsibilities to any significant extent but at least there was less washing up, I suppose. We had a most delicious meal, some very nice wine (including the “champagne” out of the Italian parcel from Giacobazzi’s Deli) and, of course, absolutely splendid company. So, another year older and perhaps slightly wiser (but I wouldn’t count on it).

The attached is our Christmas “tree” in front of Ms Playchute’s newly plastered chimney breast – I think it just about sums up the Christmas spirit?

I am grateful to Adam for the content of the allegedly “humorous” section of the Befouled Weakly News this week. He sent me some of the highlights as well as the URL for the full Monty on LaughLab from which the snippets below have been lifted. The cultural differences regarding humour are fascinating.

Love to you all,


LaughLab was a huge scientific experiment to discover the world's funniest joke.

For over a year, huge numbers of people from all over the world sent in their favourite jokes and rated how funny they found the jokes submitted by others.

LaughLab certainly captured the public's imagination – we received over 40,000 jokes and almost 2 million ratings!

All of this information has been stored on the LaughLab computers. In December 2001 we released some of our preliminary results - we have now analysed all of our data and are delighted to announce our final findings.

We asked everyone participating in LaughLab to tell us which country they were from. We analysed the data from the ten countries that rated the highest number of jokes. The following ‘league table’ lists the countries, in the order of how funny they found the jokes:

Most funny

  • Germany
  • France
  • Denmark
  • UK
  • Australia
  • The Republic of Ireland
  • Belgium
  • USA
  • New Zealand
  • Canada

Least funny

Fascinating differences also emerged between nations in terms of the jokes they found funny. People from The Republic of Ireland, the UK, Australia and New Zealand expressed a strong preference for jokes involving word plays, such as:

Patient: “Doctor, I've got a strawberry stuck up my bum.”
Doctor: “I've got some cream for that.

Americans and Canadians much preferred gags where there was a sense of superiority – either because a person looked stupid, or was made to look stupid by another person, such as:

Texan: “Where are you from?”
Harvard grad: “I come from a place where we do not end our sentences with prepositions.”
Texan: “Okay – where are you from, jackass?”

Finally, many European countries, such as France, Denmark and Belgium, liked jokes that were somewhat surreal, such as:

An Alsatian (a German Shepherd to our American readers) went to a telegram office, took out a blank form and wrote:
“Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof. Woof.”

The clerk examined the paper and politely told the dog: “There are only nine words here. You could send another ‘Woof’ for the same price.”

“But,” the dog replied, “that would make no sense at all.”

These European countries also enjoyed jokes that involved making light of topics that often make us feel anxious, such as death, illness, and marriage. For example:

A patient says: “Doctor, last night I made a Freudian slip, I was having dinner with my mother-in-law and wanted to say: “Could you please pass the butter.” But instead I said: “You silly cow, you have completely ruined my life”.”

Interestingly, Germany was the exception. Germans did not express a strong preference for any type of joke - this may well explain why they came first in our league table of funniness – they do not have any strong preferences and so tend to find a wide spectrum of jokes funny.

Dr Richard Wiseman commented ‘These results are really interesting – it suggests that people from different parts of the world have fundamentally different senses of humour. Humour is vital to communication and the more we understand about how people’s culture and background affect their sense of humour, the more we will be able to communicate effectively’.

Top Jokes in different countries

Here are some of the top jokes in different countries:

Top joke in UK

A woman gets on a bus with her baby. The bus driver says: “That's the ugliest baby that I've ever seen. Ugh!” The woman goes to the rear of the bus and sits down, fuming. She says to a man next to her: “The driver just insulted me!” The man says: “You go right up there and tell him off – go ahead, I'll hold your monkey for you.”

Top joke in USA

The American data proved to be somewhat strange. Dave Barry is a well known humourist whose columns are syndicated in many American newspapers. In January 2002 he kindly devoted an entire column to LaughLab. At the end of the column he urged readers to submit jokes that simply ended with the punch line:
‘There's a weasel chomping on my privates.’

Within just a few days we had received over 1500 ‘weasel chomping’ jokes.

One weasel joke scored very highly in the USA and almost became the funniest joke in America. Here it is:

At the parade, the Colonel noticed something unusual going on and asked the Major: “Major Barry, what the devil's wrong with Sergeant Jones’ platoon? They seem to be all twitching and jumping about.”
“Well sir,” says Major Barry after a moment of observation. “There seems to be a weasel chomping on his privates.”

However, ignoring the weasels, the top American joke was…

A man and a friend are playing golf one day at their local golf course. One of the guys is about to chip onto the green when he sees a long funeral procession on the road next to the course. He stops in mid-swing, takes off his golf cap, closes his eyes, and bows down in prayer. His friend says: “Wow, that is the most thoughtful and touching thing I have ever seen. You truly are a kind man.” The man then replies: “Yeah, well we were married 35 years.”

Top joke in Canada

When NASA first started sending up astronauts, they quickly discovered that ballpoint pens would not work in zero gravity. To combat the problem, NASA scientists spent a decade and $12 billion to develop a pen that writes in zero gravity, upside down, underwater, on almost any surface including glass and at temperatures ranging from below freezing to 300 C. The Russians used a pencil.

Top joke in Australia

This woman rushed to see her doctor, looking very much worried and all strung out. She rattles off: “Doctor, take a look at me. When I woke up this morning, I looked at myself in the mirror and saw my hair all wiry and frazzled up, my skin was all wrinkled and pasty, my eyes were bloodshot and bugging out, and I had this corpse-like look on my face! What's WRONG with me, Doctor!?”

The doctor looks her over for a couple of minutes, then calmly says: “Well, I can tell you that there ain't nothing wrong with your eyesight....”

Top joke in Belgium

Why do ducks have webbed feet?
To stamp out fires.
Why do elephants have flat feet?
To stamp out burning ducks.

Top joke in Germany

A general noticed one of his soldiers behaving oddly. The soldier would pick up any piece of paper he found, frown and say: “That's not it” and put it down again. This went on for some time, until the general arranged to have the soldier psychologically tested. The psychologist concluded that the soldier was deranged, and wrote out his discharge from the army. The soldier picked it up, smiled and said: “That's it.”

The UK regions: An Englishman, an Irishman and a Scotsman…

We also asked participants from the UK to tell us whether they were from Wales, Scotland, England or Northern Ireland. Our data has revealed that the Welsh found the jokes funniest, followed by the English, then people from Northern Ireland and then the Scots.

Here are the top jokes from the regions.

Top Joke in England

Two weasels are sitting on a bar stool. One starts to insult the other one. He screams, "I slept with your mother!" The bar gets quiet as everyone listens to see what the other weasel will do. The first again yells, "I SLEPT WITH YOUR MOTHER!" The other says, "Go home dad you’re drunk."

Top Joke in Wales

A turtle was walking down an alley in New York when he was mugged by a gang of snails. A police detective came to investigate and asked the turtle if he could explain what happened. The turtle looked at the detective with a confused look on his face and replied "I don't know, it all happened so fast."

Top Joke in Scotland

I want to die peacefully in my sleep like my grandfather. Not screaming in terror like his passengers.

Top Joke in Northern Ireland

A doctor says to his patient, 'I have bad news and worse news'.
'Oh dear, what's the bad news?' asks the patient.
The doctor replies, 'You only have 24 hours to live'.
'That's terrible', said the patient. 'How can the news possibly be worse?'
The doctor replies, 'I've been trying to contact you since yesterday'.


Towards the end of the LaughLab project, we carried out a brain scan (using a technique known as Magnetic Resonance Imaging) of people listening to some of our best jokes. The results are amazing. They show that there is a very precise area of the brain involved in understanding why a joke is funny.

This area is mainly located towards the back of the frontal lobes. Interestingly, this fits in with other research suggesting that people who have damaged this part of the brain often lose their sense of humour.

But why should this section of the brain be so important to our sense of humour?

Most jokes work because they surprise us – they set us thinking in one direction, and then we hear the punch line and realise that there is a completely different way of seeing the situation.

For example, take the old joke:

Two fish in a tank.
One turns to the other and says ‘Do you know how to drive this thing?’

The first line makes us think the fish are in a fish tank – then the second makes us realise that they actually are in an army tank!

The part of the brain called the Prefrontal cortex plays a vital role in the type of flexible thinking needed to understand a joke. It makes sense of the punch line and produces a strong sense of surprise.

In the NMI scanner we presented people with the initial part of jokes and then the punch lines, and compared activity in their brains with them simply reading unfunny sentences. The results were clear - the punch lines caused lots of activation in the prefrontal cortex at the front of the brain - without this part of the brain we simply wouldn't find jokes funny.

And so, to the winning entries:


In second place came the joke that was leading the pack when we announced our preliminary results in December:

Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson go on a camping trip. After a good dinner and a bottle of wine, they retire for the night, and go to sleep.

Some hours later, Holmes wakes up and nudges his faithful friend. "Watson, look up at the sky and tell me what you see."

"I see millions and millions of stars, Holmes" replies Watson.

"And what do you deduce from that?"

Watson ponders for a minute.

"Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. What does it tell you, Holmes?"

Holmes is silent for a moment. "Watson, you idiot!" he says. "Someone has stolen our tent!"


After much careful scrutiny, we are proud to announce our winning joke. This joke received higher ratings than any other gag.

Drum roll....

A couple of New Jersey hunters are out in the woods when one of them falls to the ground. He doesn't seem to be breathing, his eyes are rolled back in his head.

The other guy whips out his cell phone and calls the emergency services. He gasps to the operator: “My friend is dead! What can I do?”

The operator, in a calm soothing voice says: “Just take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead.”

There is a silence, then a shot is heard. The guy's voice comes back on the line. He says: “OK, now what?"

This winning joke was submitted by Gurpal Gosall, a 31 year old psychiatrist from Manchester in the UK. He told LaughLab that:

"I like the joke as it makes people feel better, because it reminds them that there is always someone out there who is doing something more stupid than themselves."

So why did the hunters joke perform so well? Dr Richard Wiseman, the psychologist behind the LaughLab project, said:

"This joke is interesting because it works across many different countries, appeals to men and women, and young and old alike. Many of the jokes submitted received higher ratings from certain groups of people, but this one had real universal appeal. Also, we find jokes funny for lots of different reasons – they sometimes make us feel superior to others, reduce the emotional impact of anxiety-provoking events, or surprise us because of some kind of incongruity. The hunters joke contains all three elements – we feel superior to the stupid hunter, realise the incongruity of him misunderstanding the operator and the joke helps us to laugh about our concerns about our own mortality."

Read all about it yourself at

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