Relative Humor

The following article was written by Jaa (G9).

“Omg broooo, isn’t this just so relatable? 😀 😀 😀 ” you caption your DM to your brother and your best friend as you forward the post you found on your Instagram feed. Five minutes later, your phone buzzes back. Your brother responds, “Why are you sending me stupid Kylie Jenner memes? I’m checking math problems.” But your best friend goes, “LMAOOO, THAT’S ME EVERYDAY DURING SUMMATIVE WEEKS, SOOOO RELATABLE!!” Apparently, a second-year university student and a 14-year-old girl don’t find the same things funny. You keep scrolling down your Instagram feed and another message pops up. This time it’s from your friend studying abroad in South Korea. But, the joke she sends you, you found it completely humourless. This is because you’re not Korean, and you don’t understand the language or what’s going on in their country. So, what plays the greater role in humor responses—is it age or culture?

Why is it that a sneeze is hilarious to a middle school student, but a high school student would roll his eyes at the snickers?  In the article How Laughter Works by Marshall Brain, published on HowStuffWorks under the science section, it states that the most significant factor in what people find humorous is age. Things toddlers find funny are usually short and simple, like elephant jokes as well as jokes where crudeness is present otherwise known as “toilet humor” because they boost self-assertiveness. The pre-teen and teenage years are generally awkward and tense. Therefore, their jokes are more focused on sex, authority figures and food…..anything adults consider off-limits. They are often rebellious, mocking or self-deprecating in style. Doesn’t this remind you of yourself? As for adults, their physical bodies and mental outlooks grow and change. Since there is a certain amount of knowledge involved in understanding a joke, our sense of humor becomes more developed as we learn more. You’re probably already thinking, “if I don’t get a joke, does that mean I’m stupid?”, no, most definitely not. Speaking in general, older people have more experience in life, including tragedies and successes which makes their senses of humor mature. Their humor preferences are more subtle, more tolerant and less judgmental, which are all affiliative humor. And that’s why your grandma doesn’t laugh at your stupid NBA memes or those “starter pack” jokes. In another example, a survey was sent out at KIS International School to find out humor response from students from different grades. Participants from grade 6-12 were asked to rank 3 humor prompts from no response, confusion, smile, laugh to beyond applause. These 3 humor prompts consisted of one that is a SpongeBob video, a video containing sounds of laugh and a physics joke. We’re all familiar with sponge-bob aren’t we? The square yellow sponge who lives in a pineapple with his pet snail? No? Yes? The results show that most 11-12th graders found the SpongeBob video very boring but found the physics joke fairly funny, which is contrary to the 6-8th graders’ response, where they found the SpongeBob video very amusing but didn’t get the physics joke. This demonstrates that younger audiences enjoy more silly humor and older audiences enjoy more mature-content humor.

Do you find this funny?: “I bought some medicine yesterday, it was very expensive – 40,000 baht. What medicine? Yaa Maha.” Well, probably not, because you didn’t know that Yaa Maha was a Motorbike brand. Many jokes don’t translate well — or at all — because of the difference in cultural norms. Some of the jokes we laugh at are political, economical and social issues that only apply to people living in that culture. You have to be familiar with the context to get what it’s mocking. For example, a joke in Thailand would not usually have universal appeal because it would be so little understood since Thai culture is not widely known beyond Thai borders. However, a country like United States might be an exception to this rule because America is portrayed so much in movies and media, so a lot of people around the world may get a Trump joke. When someone says “That’s not funny,” it either means “So, what’s the point?” or “It’s offensive.”  For someone to find a situation offensive, he/she must have some attachment to the person or principle being demeaned or made fun of in the joke (Brain). For that reason, racist and sexist jokes are offensive to many people who are fighting prejudice or bigotry in the world. It’s really difficult these days to make a joke without offending someone, is it? In 2001, researchers at the University of Haifa collaborated with psychologist Janie Leong Siew Yin to test humor response among North American college students and compare the results to Singaporean college students (White). The participants were asked to write down a joke and describe someone who has good sense of humor. Lawerence White’s content analysis revealed notable differences between Singaporean and Americans: Americans were way more likely to tell sexual jokes. 37% of Americans told sex jokes, but only 23% of Singaporeans did the same. Not surprising, no. America is comparatively liberal when it comes to matters of sexuality, while Singapore is more conservative. Despite that, a little more than half of Singaporean jokes were aggressive as compared to 42% of American jokes. Furthermore, in the same KIS survey mentioned above, participants from different cultures were also asked to rate cultural jokes, again ranking from no response, confusion, smile, laugh to beyond applause. These jokes included one with an Indian basis, one with a Thai basis, one with a British basis and one with a Chinese basis. The results show that all the Thai people laughed at the Thai dance humor prompt whereas Indian people and Chinese people found it very confusing. However, for the Indian joke, only the Indians found it funny and half of the other participants had no response. This shows that your cultural background does affect the things you find funny.

So, back to the question, what plays the greater role in humor responses—is it age or culture? We have yet to arrive at a definitive explanation but we won’t stop trying, right? By juxtaposing universal and culturally-specific aspects of humor and immature and mature aspects of humor, we come closer to understanding how much our humor is influenced by our cultural background and our age. In the meantime, we can just continue surfing the internet for punch lines, irony, memes and fodder to keep the laughter coming……

Works Cited

Brain, Marshall. “How Laughter Works.” HowStuffWorks Science, HowStuffWorks, 1 Apr. 2000,

“The Best Try Not To Laugh Challenge MARCH 2017 (SpongeBob Dank Memes Edition)” Youtube, Youtube,19 Mar.  2017,

White, Lawrence T. “What’s Funny?” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 18 May 2012, blog/culture-conscious/201205/whats-funny.

“ลิซ่า(Lisa)เต้นสายย่อ!! DANCE เพลงไทย ฮาท้องแข็ง Blackpink เป็นวงตลก.” Performance by Lisa, Youtube, Youtube, 5 Aug. 2017,


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