Speaking of things that are funny to some and not others, an instructive example is the Orange Head joke. Usually when it's told, the audience is sharply divided into those who think it's hilarious and those who struggle to see what's funny. 

Here's the Orange Head joke:

It's business as usual for a bartender, and one day as he is cleaning his bar when an unusual customer walks in. The man is dressed in an expensive suit, has a beautiful supermodel hanging off each arm, and has a limo parked outside. Furthermore, the man has an orange for a head.

The customer sits down at the bar and orders everyone a drink. He pays for it from a roll of hundreds and manages to get the attention of every woman in the joint, despite having an orange for a head.

The bartender is not a man to pry, but he feels compelled to ask about this man's life.

"Excuse me," says the bartender, "I can't help but notice that you're obviously fabulously wealthy and irresistable to women, but you have an orange for a head. How did that happen?"

So the man told his story.

"A while back, when I was penniless, I was walking along the beach and saw an old lamp, half buried in the sand. I picked it up and gave it a clean, and POOF! out popped a genie. The genie explained that he had been trapped in that lamp for two hundred years, and that he was so grateful to me for freeing him that he would give me three wishes.

"For my first wish I asked for an unlimited fortune. The genie said 'It is done!' and from then on, whenever I needed money, it was there.

"For my second wish I asked for the attention of all the most beautiful women in the world. The genie said it was done, and since then I have been able to get any woman I wanted.

"For my third wish -- and, this is the bit where I kinda fucked up -- I asked for an orange for a head."


Do you think it's funny? 

If you search for this joke's key words, you'll see many pages where, after it's told, people react incredulously and ask where the joke was. Others at the same time are laughing their heads off. Here's a blog post that attempts to analyze this, though it doesn't get far.

(I personally think it's hilarious, and easily the best joke I heard last year. When I retold it at my blog, I got many concurring comments, but also comments from people who didn't see anything funny, even after those who did tried to explain what they found in it. Several people went on to convince themselves it's garbled and there must be an "original" version in which the final remark makes sense and is funny - and offered several ideas of how it might go).

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I anticipated the punchline in advance, and still found it funny. It probably would have been funnier if I hadn't seen it coming.

I immediately proceeded to discuss it with a friend, who couldn't understand what was funny about it at all.

I came up with another joke to explain to her what's funny to me about this one. I find them I find them funny for similar reasons.

A man walks into a control room. There is a big red button labeled "Nuclear Launch Button." He walks up and presses it.

A display screen next to the button reads "Input password." There is a number panel below the screen. He searches around the room, and finds a locked desk. He jimmies it open, and rummages around through it. Inside there is sheet of paper which says "Nuclear launch password: 7831662"

He returns to the number panel, and punches in 7831662. The display screen says "Code confirmed. Press again to launch." He presses the button again. "Launching nuclear arsenal."

He stares at the screen in shock. "Aw shit.... I fucked up."

That's creative. I find it more surreal than funny. It definitely works for part of the reason orange-head works.

Almost unrelated, except that it involves casual use of a destructive button - The Button

Hmm. This one I laughed at. Orange-Head, I didn't.

The friend I told it to also thought so, but I liked the orange head joke better.

Yeah, although I am more likely to retell the nuclear launch joke. Because you gain more status for telling jokes when you are able to do so without laughing yourself half way through.

This joke works by subverting a cliche, and thus how funny it is to you depends on how salient the cliche is.

I guess I'm in the middle? I thought it was mildly funny.

For whatever it says about me, my all-time favorite joke is this one:

Q: What's brown and sticky? A: A stick!

"What's green, whistles, and hangs on a wall?"

"No idea"

"A Salmon!"

"Salmon aren't green!"

"So I painted it green."

"They don't hang on walls!"

"They do if you nail them up"

"Fish can't whistle!"

"Yeah, I just put that in so it wouldn't be too easy."

We appear to have extremely similar senses of humor, since I also love that joke, and independently used the phrase "mildly funny" in my response to the orange head joke.

it suddenly occurred to me that many LWers might not be familiar with the longest joke in the world. I loved it.


This is probably necromancy, but I can't leave a joke alone. The above link is dead, but here is one that works.

Does reading the punchline in a British accent make it funnier, or less funny? (Non-spoiler explanation: despite the webpage being in a .uk domain, the word-play doesn't work in British, only in American.)

Less funny; it kills the joke. Lever is pronounced like "never" in American English. Better late than never, etc.

It made me laugh, which is a reasonable proxy for thinking it's funny.

I suspect a lot of why it made me laugh is that I recognized the "twelve-inch pianist" template and spent the entire joke trying to anticipate what the analogous punch line could be, which set me up to be surprised by the punchline. I'd expect someone who wasn't trying to anticipate the punchline to not think it was funny.

I'm reminded of "What did the Zen master say to the counter-worker at Dunkin' Donuts? 'Large coffee and a chocolate crueller to go, please.' " Which got a huge laugh at the time, but you really had to be there.

Given that "Why did the chicken cross the road?" is considered the prototypical joke, anti-humour is pretty popular. You may say that a man with an orange for a head is more inherently funny than a chicken, but I would refer you to D Zongker 2006

Oh, a paper written in chicken. (PLIF was a great comic, incidentally.)

That specific comic isn't available there anymore for some strange reason, but you can find it here instead.

I always thought of the chicken joke as more a case of giving a Mathematician's Answer then anti-humor.

I really have to wonder if most people actually understand that "why did the chicken cross the road?" is supposed to be anti-humor, rather than being just a well-known "joke" that clearly must be a joke since everyone says it is one, even if they don't understand why. I really doubt that most people understand the notion of anti-humor when they learn it...

I find the short version of that type of joke (something completely expected happens, in defiance of normal joke conventions) to be much funnier than the long version, for some reason. I also seem to remember there's a name for the class of jokes like that, which my friends and I spent a good twenty minutes amusing ourselves with at the time. Anyone remember what they're called? For some reason I want to call them Soviet or Russian, but I have no idea whether that's the correct label.

EDIT: Ah, my flatmate came to my rescue. Apparently they're called German jokes, after the German stereotype of humourless efficiency.

when I was in second grade the standard anti-humor joke was,

"Why did the chicken cross the road?"

"To get to the other side."

That was one of the first "jokes" I ever heard, and I think I was nineteen when I finally realized it was supposed to be anti-humor.

Oh, yeah. That's true. I remember being mystified by that one as a child.

Teaching jokes to children is a strange business because they seem to go through a phase where they enthusiastically tell jokes that aren't funny, as if they don't appreciate humor. It hardly matters what kind of joke you tell them.

I insist that I don't find that joke funny. Really, it's just stupid. But for some reason I laughed for three seconds when I got to this bit:

but you have an orange for a head. How did that happen?"

Then for about 20 seconds when I got to this part:

"For my third wish -- and, this is the bit where I kinda fucked up -- I asked for an orange for a head."

Then, when I went back to find those two quotes I laughed for another 3 then 5 seconds. I also laughed three more times while writing the text of my reply.

Because he wished for an orange for a head. That's fucked up.

This is my favorite joke of all time.

I especially like when this type of joke is a bit long, because it makes the satisfaction of telling it to people who don't find it funny that much better. Is that a bit mean? So's my sense of humor.

It wouldn't work as well if you'd never heard a joke before. It's only meta-surprising. I love it.

Well, for what it is worth, I did not deem the joke funny, but I think I know what's intended to be funny about it: the human main character in the joke makes three foolish wishes in succession, and the surprise for the "punchline" is realizing that an aspect of the scenario you knew about all along (the orange head) was, in fact, the third stupid wish that the human made.

I admit I should incorporate the theories presented by the humans in this discussion thread, since they would know more about what makes humans laugh, and I've only learned some weak heuristics.

What's foolish about wishing for an unlimited fortune? Just think of all the paperclips you could make with that!

I guess you could make inflatable paperclips if you wanted, sure.

I meant MONETARY inflation, non-non-ape. That is, if I could just create money at will, it would quickly lose its value, end my paperclip-hoarding spree, and cause economic damage that hinders existing paperclip production capacity, possibly impeding my ability to get the new paperclips to the safe zone.

However, in my particular case, it would allow me to technically satisfy my contract with User:Kevin...

Sure, that's true.

I was thinking of an unlimited fortune comprising wealth rather than money -- that is, things that are actually valuable to people, which can be exchanged for tokens, rather than the tokens themselves -- but genie wishes are admittedly problematic that way.

That said, you do seem to be jumping over a rather large middle ground in which you create the optimal amount of money for your paper-clipping (or other) needs, rather than so much money that you impede your ability to achieve your goals. Access to unlimited funds doesn't actually obligate you to create money as rapidly as possible.

Speaking of insufficiently well-specified requests, incidentally, while I do recall suggesting a while back that "ape" is considered an impolite (though accurate) descriptor for other LW users, "non-ape" is less accurate without being significantly more polite, so is hardly an improvement.

Oh, OK, thank you for the advice, that's the kind of thing a good human would do.

(nods) Thanks. I find it useful to simulate one on occasion.

Okay, I spent the rest of this page in a beard-stroking, thoughtful mindset. "Yes, I can see how that would be humorous, indeed it is subverting the expectation ..."

And I just lolled at this.

"You see what I did there, I turned it around..."

Suggested edits for an audience made of stereotypical LessWrongniks:

Mention, in passing that "There are three kinds of genies: Genies to whom you can safely say "I wish for you to do what I should wish for"; genies for which no wish is safe; and genies that aren't very powerful or intelligent.". Then argue which kind of genie this was.

End with "-- and, this is the bit where I kinda failed to overcome akrasia -- I asked for an orange for a head."

Suggested edits for an audience made of stereotypical LessWrongniks:

It's business as usual for a bartender, and one day as he is cleaning his bar an unusual customer walks in dressed in an expensive suit, a beautiful supermodel hanging off each arm and with a limo parked outside. Furthermore, the man has an orange for a head.

The bartender assigns high probability that the man is dressed in a costume of some sort, pretty low probability that he is hallucinating given that nothing else appears odd, low to medium probability that the talking orange-lookalike is a robot creation with a radio link to a real person elsewhere, and negligible probability that his whole understanding of the universe is wrong to the level that genies, magic and talking conscious fruit with biological connections to a human nervous system exists.

He greets the man and serves him a drink.

Alternate middle: "For my first wish I asked for an unlimited fortune. The genie became very quiet and after a minute or two, coins started appearing beside it. Then more and more, I saw the ground, the grass, rocks, all start morphing into coins more and more of them. I pocketed some and ran.

He looks around. "I hope it's not still going", he said with nervous laughter.

This reminds me of a less punny version of the "twelve inch pianist" joke. I think it's amusing but not hilarious.

Yes, and there are a lot of versions of that joke. See also the somewhat similar XKCD which turns that around somewhat. Related xkcd.

Yes, it's anti-humour of the twelve inch pianist joke.

I dunno. Just not enough dead babies.

Robot comedian that takes audience feedback, perfectly miscalibrated for my sense of humor. The TED audience thought it was fairly funny. Did you laugh?

I liked his jokes; unfortunately, the last 5 or so things I've heard using that speech synth software were fundamentalist Christian videos. So the voice fell into the Uncanny Valley and that made me less able to appreciate it.

I thought it was a bit funny, or meta-funny perhaps. It reminds me a little of the following, which is one of my favorite jokes: http://www.miraclesalad.com/blog/archives/2006/09/quick_wit_retor.php

That joke is like the Aristocrats insofar as it's an opportunity for improvisation (at as great a length as you can get away with). Also analogously, I've usually heard it as the "'Fuck you, clown' joke" (or just the "clown joke" if you really care about spoilarz).

And in the versions I've heard, the clown calls the guy down to the stage, and asks "Sir, are you a horse's head?" "No." "Are you a horse's leg?" "No." "Are you a horse's tail?" "No." "Well then, it seems to me that you must be a horse's ass!" which is both funnier (to me) and (importantly) longer.

I didn't know it like that, but I agree that it's better. The version I first read in the early to mid nineties was much longer than this one though, and his achievements at quick wit retort just went on and on from one unbelievable accomplishment to the next -- which of course makes the punch line that much funnier. The version I remember was also quite elegantly written, which made the crudeness of the last line that much funnier.

The version of this I am familiar with is: "Two men walk into a bar. Which is strange, because you would think the second guy would have seen the first guy do it and ducked."

"Two men are walking down the street. One walks into a bar. The other one ducks."

That's the first time I've heard that one, and I've heard the "ow" version more times than I can keep track of.

I think you're just being parochial in your assumption that having an orange for a head is a "bad" thing.

Can you imagine the horror of a universe filled with people eternally yearning for oranges as heads, but being unable to do so because of your actions? That would make you history's greatest monster.

I'm tangentially reminded of the khepri from Perdido Street Station, a fantasy race who are described by humans as having the body of a human but a giant scarab beetle in place of a head.

They, of course, consider this an absurdly parochial description, and instead describe humans as having the body of a khepri and the head of a shaved gibbon.

I found it mildly funny. To me it was just a straightforward metahumor joke: isomorphic to "Why did the chicken cross the road?" I suppose the social elements engage the reader a bit more.

A poll! (Count me for funny, since I can't vote in my own poll.)

ETA: Note that there's a karma balance post for the poll -- since it's downvoted once per vote, it may appear as "comment score below threshold" or disappear entirely, depending on your personal settings.

Funny. I suspect you must have heard the 12 inch pianist joke or other similar genie jokes to find it funny. In that sense it may be like this joke:

Q: What's the difference between a duck?

A: One is both the same.

That one is hilarious to me. The others are just completely bizarre.

I heard that as "One of its legs are both the same".

(One of my favourites, btw.)

This started seeming slightly funny after I had read it three times or so, but I have no idea why.

Eh, I wasn't amused. I can see why some people would find it funny, but I don't.

Your version is funnier than the one on the blog post.

See also this bit relating to Christmas Cracker bad jokes:

He [Professor Richard Wiseman] thinks the key to the success of modern cracker jokes is precisely because they're not funny. 'If the joke is good and you tell it and it doesn't get a laugh, it's your problem. If the joke's bad and it doesn't get a laugh, then it's the joke's problem. My theory is that it's a way of not embarrassing people at Christmas.' So they're not jokes at all? 'In a sense, they're just a way of binding people together. Given the diversity around your average dinner table, it would be extraordinarily difficult to come up with a joke that everyone found funny. The kids won't get it, or someone will find it offensive. Even if you did, the delivery would be difficult. Women don't tell jokes to one another, so they're not used to doing it. Blokes do, but it's done in a particular context, not around the family table, and it's quite stressful to try and deliver a funny joke, so it would be a disaster.'

Is it really true that British women don't tell jokes?

No. That seems to be more to do with Wiseman having sexist attitudes than anything else.

Summary: "A man has an orange for a head. How? Magic."

Is it still funny?

Assuming a person can actually have an orange for a head and that genies exist then this is just a straightforward story explaining how he became wealthy, desirable and fruitheaded. Like asking someone in a suit how come he's wearing a suit and he answers "because I bought one and put it on".

Assuming a person can't actually have an orange for a head, it's just a timewasting surreal story which doesn't go anywhere.

The humour is in the non-answer where an answer is expected, but I don't find a non-answer funny. I do see it as a joke-shaped pattern and start to involuntarily smile at it, but I'm mentally annoyed by it not enhappied by it.

I don't think the humor is in the non-answer, I think the humor is in the fact that we're introduced to a person who demonstrates what is apparently rational, goal seeking behavior, and then proceeds to ask for something he doesn't want and has no reason to want.

Exactly, but I think the parodistic element is important as well. We expect (both from all the similar stories about genies and all the less wrong posts about what genies can be trusted) that he made a seemingly useful wish that backfired, presumably in a humourous manner (like how "The building explodes and your elderly mum is blown into the sky" is humourous, in a slapstick manner). We think he's going to ask for something he wants, but instead gets something he doesn't want, when he instead asks for something he doesn't want and gets it.

Also, you're obviously right when you think of "King Midas is starving to death. How? Magic." has no clear genre. It's a morality play about wealth and not making stupid wishes if the answer is "He used magic to wish for all he touched to turn to gold, not realising this meant his food as well. Being unable to digest gold he started to starve." and a joke if the answer is "He used magic to wish to starve to death. What a maroon!" Also, regarding OP, just making the answer magic is as silly as "Why is that man wearing a suit? Economics" and "Why is King Midas starving? Biochemistry."

I also think part of the insight is that by the time he has the other two things, it doesn't really matter what he has for a head.

Actually, I find your version slightly funny, but I don't like the original version.

I normally like anti-jokes, but for them to work, they should be both short and subvert a joke structure that was funny to begin with. I never liked the "misguided wish". Overall, I strongly dislike long buildups. A joke should be efficient.

I liked the original joke, and have told it many times in the past. I also find this sentence quite funny:

Like asking someone in a suit how come he's wearing a suit and he answers "because I bought one and put it on".

I found it pretty funny (I love anti-humour), but not as funny as I would have if I hadn't been able to guess the punchline before I got to it.

I am a laugher but it took more detailed explanations before I understood why...

I have used this exact joke as a test of people's sense of humor; the people I thought most similar to me in sensibility loved it; many other people don't get it.

I never heard the part "and, this is the bit where I kinda fucked up", so I guess I was telling it wrong, but it still got laughs from the sort of people who laugh at that sort of thing.

As for me? I think it's hilarious.

I cracked up so hard whrn I read it, and I didnt really know why. My friend who ha like a genius IQ said it was really innapropriatr so I stopped talking about it. I guess hes wrong? :) Its so damn funny...

I literally laughed out loud, and that doesn't often happen when I'm browsing the net.

Has anyone set up a poll for this?

This is the best article and comments section i've found on this site