The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny

The Humor Code: A Global Search for What Makes Things Funny Hardcover

by Peter McGraw  (Author) , Joel Warner  (Author)

Two guys. 19 experiments. Five continents. 91,000 miles. And a book that will forever change the way you think about humor.

Part road-trip comedy and part social science experiment, a scientist and a journalist detail their epic quest to discover the secret behind what makes things funny.
Dr. Peter McGraw, founder of the Humor Research Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder, teamed up with journalist Joel Warner on a far-reaching search for the secret behind humor. Their journey spanned the globe, from New York to Japan, from Palestine to the Amazon. Meanwhile, the duo conducted their own humor experiments along the way—to wince-worthy, hilarious, and illuminating results.
In their quixotic search, they questioned countless experts, from comedians like Louis C.K. to rat-tickling researchers, and answered pressing (and not-so-pressing) questions such as, “What’s the secret to winning The New Yorker cartoon caption contest?”; “Who has the bigger funny bone—men or women, Democrats or Republicans?”; and “Is laughter really the best medicine?” As a final test, McGraw uses everything they learned to attempt stand-up—at the largest comedy festival in the world.
Funny, surprising, and often touching, The Humor Code is a revealing exploration of humor, society, and an unusual friendship.

Editorial Reviews


“Peter and Joel’s globe-spanning search for what makes things funny is a wonderful page-turner that entertains as much as it informs.”

(Dan Ariely, author of The (Honest) Truth about Dishonesty and Predictably Irrational)

“This book tickled my hippocampus. Joel Warner and Peter McGraw gave me paradigm-altering insights into humor, but also creativity, business, happiness, and, of course, flatulence.”

(A.J. Jacobs, author of Drop Dead Healthy and The Year of Living Biblically)

“If you’ve ever wondered why we laugh at what we do,you have to read this book about the DNA of humor. The odd-couple authors take us on a journey from the halls of science to the backstage of Los Angeles comedy clubs, and they show us why people can laugh amidst tensions in Palestine or a clown brigade in the Amazon. It’s part Indiana Jones, part Tina Fey, and part Crime Scene Investigation, and it will make you smarter and happier.”

(Chip Heath, author of Decisive, Switch, and Made to Stick)

The Humor Code is a fun narrative of how a serious scientific theory is born, tested, and lived.”

(Ben Huh, CEO of The Cheezburger Network)

The Humor Code is so good that I wish I wrote it. In fact, I’ve already started telling people I did. Luckily, Pete McGraw and Joel Warner are givers, so they won’t mind. They’ve given us a remarkable look at what makes us laugh, with the perfect blend of science, stories, satire, and sweater vests. This book has bestseller written all over it.”

(Adam Grant, Wharton professor and bestselling author of Give and Take)

“The Humor Code is a rollicking tour de farce that blends academic insights and amusing anecdotes to answer some of the most serious (and frivolous) questions about humor, from what makes us laugh and why we laugh at all, to how the world’s cultures came to have completely different senses of humor.”

(Adam Alter, New York Times bestselling author of Drunk Tank Pink: And Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave; Assistant Professor of Marketing and Psychology)

“If you’re doing business in the global marketplace, The Humor Code is a must read. Not only did I learn what makes things humorous around the world, now I understand why nobody in Japan ever laughed at my jokes!”

(Marty St. George, Senior Vice President of Marketing, JetBlue Airways)

“McGraw and Warner have done something quite remarkable and commendable. They’ve taken an intriguing question regarding the nature of humor and artfully mined answers from both the outcomes of scientific research and their own “world-wide comedy tour” experiences. I’ve never seen anything like it.”

(Robert Cialdini, bestselling author of Influence)

“Funny, poignant and inspiring, Peter and Joel manage the tricky task of vivisecting comedy without losing the patient.”

(Andy Wood, co-founder and producer of The Bridgetown Comedy Festival)

“If you’ve ever been interested in trying comedy, this book will either scare you away from it or force you to do it. I consider both options a success.”

(Mike Drucker, standup comedian and writer for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon

“Blending cutting-edge science and clever stories, The Humor Code will help you find a funnier world — whether you are on Twitter or not.”

(Claire Diaz-Ortiz, author of Twitter for Good and innovator at Twitter, Inc.)

“A harrowing tale of men obsessed with understanding a gargantuan and enigmatic beast called Funny. This book might as well be titled ‘Moby Dick Jokes.'”

(Baron Vaughn, Comedian. As seen on Comedy Central, Conan, Ferguson and his podcast “Deep S##!”)

“Leave it to a reporter and a scientist to try to ruin something beautiful by dissecting it, and instead create something wonderful. The Humor Code is a tremendous book.”

(Shane Snow, technology journalist and author of Smartcuts)

“I’ve always been fascinated by how humor works. I’m not willing to say that The Humor Code solves the puzzle once and for all, but it comes pretty close – and along the way it’s a hell of a ride.”

(Jimmy Carr, Stand-up comedian, television host, actor, and co-author of Only Joking: What’s So Funny About Making People Laugh?)

“Spanning five-continents, McGraw and Warner’s quest for a unified field theory of funny may be quixotic but, like Don Q and Sancho, their misadventures are irresistible and their enthusiasm is as infectious as the laughter they chronicle. Together they manage to find the science in comedy and the comedy in science, and share it all with the reader in this playful Baedeker of humor.”

(Barnet Kellman; Emmy-Award winning director of Murphy Brown and Mad About You, professor of Cinema Arts at USC, co-director of Comedy@SCA)

“Humor is like happiness — universal but subjective. What’s great about The Humor Code is that it takes a scientific look at how humor differs across cultures yet vitally connecting us at the same time.”

(Jenn Lim, CEO and Chief Happiness Officer of Delivering Happiness)

“From hysterical laughing epidemics in Africa; to controversial sketch comedy in Palestine; to our sworn enemies, clowns, dispatched to South America, the search for what makes things funny was one we found we could not stop reading.”

(The Grawlix (comedians Adam Cayton-Holland, Andrew Orvedahl, and Ben Roy))

“Engaging, wise, and of course funny, The Humor Code is a wonderful quest to discover who and what makes us laugh. Pete McGraw and Joel Warner are the best of company, and you’ll be glad you took this trip with them.”

(Susan Cain, author of Quiet)

About the Author

Peter McGraw, a professor at the University of Colorado Boulder where he directs HuRL (the Humor Research Lab), is a leading expert in the interdisciplinary fields of emotion and behavioral economics. His work has been covered by NPR, NightlineThe Wall Street JournalScientific AmericanThe New York Times and the BBC. He lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Joel Warner, an award-winning former staff writer for Westword, Denver’s alternative newsweekly, has written for WiredThe Boston GlobeSlateGrantland, and other publications. He lives in Denver, Colorado.


About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (, the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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