The Loh Down On Science

Can you use a natural disaster to understand comedic timing?

When does joking about a tragedy stop being offensive?

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with the Loh Down on Science.

That depends, say researchers in Colorado and Texas.  They surveyed a thousand people before, after, and way after Hurricane Sandy hit the East Coast.  This hurricane was a useful one to study, in that this was one natural disaster everyone could see coming. 

Participants rated three tweets as humorous, offensive, irrelevant, confusing, or just plain boring.

The day before Sandy hit, people liked the jokes, but as the tragedy unfolded, they found less to laugh about.  Up to two weeks afterward, jokes like . . .  JUST DESTROYED A STARBUCKS.  NOW I’M A PUMPKIN SPICE HURRICANE—were D.O.A.

But after Day 15, people could laugh again.  Still, comedic windows close quickly. Humor peaked at 36 days, then declined through the study's end on Day 99. 

The researchers believe the perception of humor rises and falls based on whether we feel safe. 

So remember this rhyme, comedians:  Before 15 days, put jokes away; day 15 to 36, they’re back in the mix!  Then . . . not so much.  Okay, we’ll work on it.

***** For more 90-SECOND SCIENCE FACTS, click here.*****

The Loh Down on Science is produced by LDOS Media Lab, in partnership with the University of California, Irvine, and 89.3 KPCC. And made possible by the generous support of the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation.


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