John Cleese: ‘Does it make you laugh?’

Laughing is so contagious that we often forget how subjective humor is.

JOHN CLEESE: The trouble is that people have very subjective senses of humor. And when I'm onstage doing my one man show I show clips from stuff I've done in the past. And because I don't have to speak or do anything while the clips are being played I sit and watch the audience because I can see the first three or four rows in the light that's coming from the screen. And the extraordinary thing is how varied their reactions are. He'll be roaring with laughter. She'll be roaring with laughter. He'll be looking pleasantly amused. Nothing there at all. Maybe they don't get it. Maybe they don't think it's funny. And someone they're laughing a little bit here and there. Then there's a big laugh. But he doesn't laugh. And then a minute later he roars with laughter at something that nobody else is laughing at. So it's much more subjective than you think. But when you're in a large group of people you don't notice it so much because laughter has an infectious effect on people.

So the first thing is you can't say it's funny or it's not funny because it could be funny for one person and not funny for another. What you can say is I think it's funny and then you extrapolate from that. I think enough people will find it funny for it to be worth us putting this show on.

In my case it was also true when we got together at the beginning of Monty Python where we had no idea what we are going to do, what was funny was what made us laugh. People brought material in that they'd written over the previous six or seven days. We sat around a big table at Terry Jones's place and if people laughed it was in the show and if they didn't laugh it wasn't. And if they laughed at bits of it we say well can we use the funny bit and get rid of the rest, which is why we started cutting the ends of sketches and all that kind of thing. So that was the best criteria is, does it make you laugh?

  • People have very subjective senses of humor, which means some jokes may be funny to certain people but not at all for others.
  • It can be hard to notice just how subject humor is because laughter has an infectious effect on people. This phenomenon is especially true in large groups of people.
  • When it comes to reviewing what jokes to put into a show, test it on friends and family to see which parts evoke laughs from them and which parts don't.

Ask Sophia the Robot: Is AI an existential threat to humans?

Should humans fear artificial intelligence or welcome it into our lives?

Videos
  • Sophia the Robot of Hanson Robotics can mimic human facial expressions and humor, but is that just a cover? Should humans see AI as a threat? She, of course, says no.
  • New technologies are often scary, but ultimately they are just tools. Sophia says that it is the intent of the user that makes them dangerous.
  • The future of artificial intelligence and whether or not it will backfire on humanity is an ongoing debate that one smiling robot won't settle.

Keep reading Show less

How intermittent fasting changes your brain

A new study from Singapore found that intermittent fasting increases neurogenesis.

Mind & Brain
  • Rats that fasted for 16 hours a day showed the greatest increase in hippocampal neurogenesis.
  • If true in humans, intermittent fasting could be a method for fighting off dementia as you age.
  • Intermittent fasting has previously been shown to have positive effects on your liver, immune system, heart, and brain, as well as your body's ability to fight cancer.
Keep reading Show less

Report: Just 6% of world's coronavirus infections detected

Researchers argue that most coronavirus infections around the world go undetected.

Credit: KENA BETANCUR/AFP via Getty Images.
Coronavirus
  • A new paper contends that only 6% of actual coronavirus infections have been detected.
  • Delayed and inadequate testing as well as differences in reporting are to blame.
  • The researchers argue that better testing needs to be set up before social distancing is eased.
Keep reading Show less