Since the beginning of time, the entire planet has been searching for that elusive answer to the concept of what makes something funny. Whether you’re a comedian, actor or writer trying to make a living at making people laugh or you’re with the rest of us that laugh at something and then sit back and wonder “…now, why did I just find humor in that?”, take solace in the thought that this has eluded scientists since the beginning of time.
Well, the wait is over. According to the most recent journal of Psychological Science, scientists have now planted the flag and come up with the definitive answer. The Telegraph reports here that we can now prove, scientifically, something we’ve all know for a long time. David Brent and Basil Fawlty are funny.
NPR’s All Things Considered discovers scientific formula
To further the discussion, a more detailed formula was developed several years ago by Dr. Helen Pilcher, who has the added benefit of being a molecular neurobiologist AND a stand-up comedian. In this Robert Siegel interview on NPR, Dr. Pilcher explains her formula in the context of writing a hit British sitcom. Interestingly enough, the formula also explains why David Brent and Basil Fawlty are funny, but from a totally different angle.
For those playing along at home, the formula is:
[((R x D + V) x F)+ S]/A
As Pilcher explains, “Comedic value is determined by multiplying the recognizability of the main character (R) by their delusions of grandeur (D). This is added to the verbal wit of the script (V), and the total is multiplied by the amount someone falls over or suffers a physical injury (F). The difference in social status between the highest- and lowest- ranking characters (S) is added. Finally, the total is divided by the success of any scheme or stratagem in the show (A). Each term in the formula is assigned a value up to a maximum of 10 to give an overall scientific score.”
Well, that was simple enough. Combining the two, now that you know both the secret to humor and the formula for writing a hit, the rest should be easy. I eagerly await the next Office or Fawlty Towers.