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The Funniest Joke in the World
is a killing joke
It’s science, the physiology of death by laughter - and the cross-cultural psychology of the punchline.
My forthcoming book, The Killing Joke - a poetic hybrid work dancing macabre with the (simultaneously pop and recondite) concept of the “killing joke” and its archetypal impositions - triangulates upon the idea, from an early Monty Python sketch, of a joke so funny it kills; the band Killing Joke and its multiple relevant punk and magickal aesthetics; and, beginning with the Joker-focused Batman comic by Alan Moore, contemporary Evil Clown incarnations both in entertainment and real life, Death in Jester’s Garb.
That's not funny! - John Cleese as gestapo officer in interrogation cell
In working on the book, I stumbled upon - it was more of a pratfall, banana peel slip - a vast worldwide research project in search of the world’s funniest joke.
But first, I had to deal with the phenomenon of people actually dying laughing. I posted about this last year:
The Killing Joke includes all ten of these incidents (and more); and then, just as I was completing the book last fall, ready to send it off to its publisher Jared Schickling of The Mute Canary, I ran across someone close to home - at my barbershop in Alexandria, Virginia - who had a family member, his grandfather, go out with a chuckle on a sunny morning. It’s ultimately a touching story and had to be included in the book.
He set the bar really high for everyone.
So says John Wren, struck by how his grandfather “kind just went on his own terms like that.”
This grandfather was Jack Wren and I couldn’t resist his name’s poetic balance with Paul Raven, Killing Joke band member who died in his sleep of a heart attack in 2007 at the age of 46.1
So the book was done a few weeks later and currently awaits a publication date or whatever is in accordance with The Mute Canary’s publishing schedule. I haven’t always been privy to the needs and internal processes of the small presses that have chosen to work with my work, yet I’d like to take interested readers along for the ride, if I can. Late 2023? Early 2024? I’ll keep you updated with the publishing goings-on. The time will be right, I’ve no doubt: we’re still choking on the joke of our chaotic times, gagging on the ragged gags of political malice.
Plus, I keep hearing new stories of people dying laughing irl, although the latest is a bit grim despite its holiday party setting: the laughing didn’t exactly do the woman in question in, but it was her choking on spaghetti because of her laughing that killed her - at least spaghetti is always funny.2
Giggleometer, Cackles Gauge
Seriously, about twenty years ago, psychologist Richard Wiseman’s LaughLab3 teamed up with the British Science Association to determine the funniest joke on earth as experienced across nations and cultures. I don’t find the nature of the result surprising, especially with the mindset I’ve had accompanying my writing through The Killing Joke. As stanzaed in my book, the global winner…
... scientific search for “the world’s funniest joke” instrument of measurement: giggleometer all so British/also British, Bureau of Humoresque 40,000 entries, 350,000 human subjects, 70 countries final report rendered 3 October 2002: Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn’t seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other guy whips out his phone and calls emergency services. He gasps, “My friend is dead! What can I do?” The operator says, “Calm down. I can help. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence on the line; then a gun shot is heard. The guy comes back on the phone. “Okay, now what?”
I won’t tell where this takes you from here, you’ll need the book for that, and then there’s no telling where any of all this is going, I just know it’s already been one hot summer, onus where, particulate dense, albeit I’ll bet - nowhere else but - the last laugh’s on us.
Raven was the last known possessor of the original Joker art board cover for Batman: The Killing Joke, given to the band by its artist, Brian Bolland. Now the work is nowhere to be found. close-up gray-white Joker face full frontal grin putty-purple strangler’s gloves grip sideways camera “Smile!” green hair tight upstretched red lips and eyebrow red-pink gums pointy bullet teeth
Yes - “Smile!”
In its slurping texture, spelling, and pronunciation.