“I don’t tell jokes,” Grouch Marx once said. “I tell the truth.”
Rutgers University anthologist Robert Lynch roams comedy clubs studying why people laugh and occasionally take the stage himself. Because laughter is present in all societies, Lynch says mirth provides an evolutionary advantage. If you can laugh with ’em you can live with ’em.
“If I’m writing a joke, often what I do is I look at things that I think are true, that people tend not to admit to, or maybe reluctant to admit to, including myself,” says Lynch in a story broadcast on NPR.
Jokes may not be inherently funny to everyone, he believes. But the listener reveals his own personality when he or she decides to laugh at a certain joke and pan another.