Why Are Jokes So Perishable?

September 26, 2014 12:33 PM

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There are fads and fashions in humor, and most of the world's humor is hopelessly out of fashion. Shakespeare's tragedies are as sad as ever, but his comedies are no longer very funny -- most of them have about as much comedic fizz left as an open bottle of seltzer after a week in the fridge. Ditto with other monuments to comic genius, from Don Quixote to Operation Petticoat: we still bring ourselves to laugh at them, sometimes, but the orgasm of mirth -- when it isn't simply faked -- is usually exaggerated.

Why is humor is so perishable? Why is the shelf life of the average joke closer to that of a package of ground beef than of an incorruptible Twinkie? The answer seems to be that, at any given moment, our sense of humor depends on our sense of incongruity, which in turn depends on all sorts of assump...

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