Does Being Drunk Make You Funnier?

By Bryan Le 03/21/14

If your audience is getting drunk as well, then yes. Otherwise, not so much.

Not as funny as you think you are.

A few years ago Joel Warner and Peter McGraw, co authors of The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny, set out to discover whether alcohol made people funnier. The duo invited members of the creative team behind E*Trade's talking baby ads out for a few scientific drinks.

The experiment was simple: each subject would come up with a joke, then drink, then come up with another. The subjects would rate their own jokes on a scale from "slightly amusing" to "hilarious," and the same jokes would also be judged by a sober online panel. The humor scores of the jokes would then be compared to how drunk the subjects were at the time, ranging from "sober" to "shit-faced."

McGraw was well-aware of how unscientific his "study" was and readily admitted it "will never make its way into a peer-reviewed journal."

The theory being tested is called the benign violation theory, which states that humor happens when something "wrong, unsettling, or threatening" overlaps with a safe, non-threatening context, like when a person falls down a flight of stairs but remains unhurt.

A similar study was undertaken in 1985, where increasingly inebriated groups of young men rated different types of humor, which found that the drunker the subjects were, the more they preferred blunt, violating humor over subtle humor. Warner and McGraw's experiment yielded similar results; too many drinks and the subjects lost their perspective on what was too violating and jokes become unfunny as a result.

“Drinking reduces inhibition,” McGraw said. “But it opens the door to failure, with failure likely to be on the side of going too far.”

One of the final, drunkest jokes created was a Venn diagram with "cancer" in one circle and "unpoppable pimple" in the other, which the subject found hilarious while the sober online panel did not.

“As people became more intoxicated, they thought they were funnier, but a sober audience didn’t see it that way,” Warner said.

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Bryan Le grew up in the 90's, so the Internet is practically his third parent. This combined with a love for journalism led him to The Fix. When he isn't fulfilling his duties as Editorial Coordinator, he's obsessing over fancy keyboards he can't justify buying. Find Bryan on LinkedIn or Twitter