The Funny Formula
The Imperial Majesty and the lords superior have given me a challenging task: to ascertain why humans laugh. If the Hegemony is to subsume this planet, we must soften the humans’ attitude towards extraterrestrials through humour. This achieved, they will more easily accept our culture, and we will avoid the destruction that so often accompanies war and conquest.
Our main goal, as I understand, is to avoid conflict and suffering. Humankind does enough of that already. In the past, humans laughed easily and freely, but that has changed in recent years. If we can re-inject a good sense of humour into their society, then our battle is already half won. In a hundred years, we can absorb their planet into our Hegemony without a single drop of blood.
From previous research and observation, I have started to develop a formula of humour:
H = T1 + T2
where Humour (H) equals Tragedy (T1) plus Time (T2).
Tragedy works on a scale of 1–10, with 10 being the highest severity. Time is increased by 0.1 for every Earth month that passes after a tragedy.
Preliminary research shows that Earth has experienced innumerable tragedies over time. Humans also have a penchant to make light of tragedies sometime after the event. This is a form of humour rarely seen in the Hegemony. Therefore, I will test this formula in various professional and informal settings. As a shapeshifter, I have unlimited personas to develop and use for my tests.
This report chronicles the results and the refinements to my formula. I begin my experiment tonight.
Tragedy plus Time does not work. Nobody told me directly, but the overripe tomato to the face was more than understood.
I feel I made a critical error when picking my tragedies. I took my material from current events. However, my audiences were not happy about certain jokes on racism, war, terrorism, and disease. And yet, jokes about these very topics are abundant in comedic records. Closer examination of existing jokes shows that more time was allowed after tragedies. I keep seeing the words “too soon” plastered in the replies of critics, so perhaps there is some validity to the Time element of the formula. But how much time needs to pass before a tragedy can become a joke?
My answer is rather simple. I must consider the severity of the tragedy against its topicality and the risk of the tragedy recurring. In the formula, Humour now has a minimum threshold for a joke to be viable. A joke must have a Humour Rating of 1.0 or greater for it to be effective, or else it will be terribly offensive to our human audiences. With this in mind, I have adjusted the formula:
H ≥ (T1 + T2) / (T3 – R)
where Humour (H) is greater than or equal to Tragedy (T1) plus Time (T2), divided by Topicality (T3) minus the Risk of Recurrence (R).
Topicality is measured the same as Tragedy (1–10), with 10 being highly topical. Risk of Recurrence, on the other hand, is a decreasing scale of 5–1, with 1 representing the highest risk of recurrence.
Now to put this adjustment to some rigorous testing. I hope I don’t get pelted with tomatoes again.
It was eggs this time.
I got the severity right, and was sure that the length of time after the tragedies was sufficient for the pain to have worn off. Indeed, entire generations have passed away since my chosen tragedies. But it seems the pain and suffering of historical injustices are more deeply rooted in certain cultures than I had originally anticipated.
Lesson learned: our agents must not make jokes about the suffering of certain cultures, races, or ethnic groups unless they have established some link to them. I call this the Immunity Phenomenon. For example, I have studied several Jewish comedians making jokes about Jewish history, and it seems to work well. People accept the jokes because the joker is addressing a lived or shared experience by using humour as a coping mechanism. The comedian is said to have Jewish Immunity, a sort of freedom of speech for all things Jewish.
In light of this startling realisation, I have modified my formula:
H ≥ ((T1 + T2) / (T3 – R)) × I
where Humour (H) is greater than or equal to Tragedy (T1) plus Time (T2), divided by Topicality (T3) minus the Risk of Recurrence (R), all multiplied by Immunity (I).
In this equation, the Immunity Phenomenon is measured by a five-step increase in strength (0, 0.25, 0.50, 0.75, 1) with 1 being fully immune and 0 guaranteeing the joke’s failure.
As this formula gets more refined, I am noticing that the margin for error is easier to identify and, hence, easier to correct. This bodes well for our future agents in the field. I shall now test the formula by applying the Immunity Phenomenon. I have selected several venues and a selection of personas representing different races and cultures.
Mixed results. I have decided the word “boo” is dumb, but upon deeper reflection, I have realised that no amount of cultural immunity can help a joke that is poorly delivered. Yet again, time is an important factor; or to be more specific, timing. Some of my jokes took far too long to tell, whereas others were so short they flew over the heads of even the fastest listeners.
Another factor I repeatedly botched was tone. One joke was delivered so seriously that I had to tell the punchline in three different ways before I heard the first laugh.
Both timing and tone need to be factored together as the Delivery Quotient against the Immunity Phenomenon. Therefore:
H ≥ (((T1 + T2) / (T3 – R)) × I ) / D = (T3 / T4)
where Humour (H) is greater than or equal to Tragedy (T1) plus Time (T2), divided by Topicality (T3) minus the Risk of Recurrence (R), all multiplied by Immunity (I), then divided by Delivery (D)--D being Timing (T3) divided by Tone (T4).
Timing uses a two-stage measure--0.5 or 1.0--for fast and slow delivery respectfully. Tone is measured in three stages--0.33 (serious), 0.66 (conversational), and 0.99 (lighthearted).
I am confident that these adjustments will help me develop jokes that are consistently funny. I will now embark on a rigorous series of tests.
My experiments were a marvellous success! I had every audience in stitches. I even had one woman out of stitches--her stomach suture unravelled itself during a moment of uproarious laughter.
However, while observing other comedians, I did notice something that I have come to call Shock Value. Some jokes were quite vulgar. Yet, the audiences loved it. I should note that the same comedians used a different repertoire of jokes depending on audience demographics. This tells me I can apply certain comedy styles to specific audiences for even greater effect.
I have added Shock Value as a modifier for Delivery:
H ≥ (((T1 + T2) / (T3 – R)) × I ) / D = ((T3 / T4) × S)
where Humour (H) is greater than or equal to Tragedy (T1) plus Time (T2), divided by Topicality (T3) minus the Risk of Recurrence (R), multiplied by Immunity (I), all divided by Delivery (D)--D being Timing (T3) divided by Tone (T4)--the final result divided again by Shock Value (S).
Shock Value is measured on a scale of 1–3, with 3 being the most shocking and 1 being no shocking content (for audiences that cannot handle vulgar or insensitive humour).
I will now try my hand at some rude jokes.
The formula worked again! Several audiences loved the crude humour. For more conservative audiences, I successfully maintained a Shock Value of 1 (which is actually zero shock).
One constant variable I have noticed throughout my experiments is the self-entitled heckler. It can be difficult to plan for hecklers, so I have added a Bastard Effect (B) to the formula, with a value of 0.5. This should encourage the development of jokes that negate the effect of hecklers.
H ≥ ((((T1 + T2) / (T3 – R)) × I ) / D = ((T3 / T4) × S)) × B
where Humour (H) is greater than or equal to Tragedy (T1) plus Time (T2), divided by Topicality (T3), minus the Risk of Recurrence (R), multiplied by Immunity (I) and divided by Delivery (D), D being Timing (T3) divided by Tone (T4), together multiplied by Shock Value (S), and the total formula multiplied by the Bastard Effect (B).
The Bastard Effect does not require testing. Since hecklers abound, and some comedians make a living out of interacting with them, the Bastard Effect serves as a quality check when preparing jokes.
Thus ends my investigation into Earth humour. I present a thoroughly tested Funny Formula for the Hegemony to manipulate humankind.
I recommend we begin our mission of assimilation as soon as possible. If the emperor and the lords superior wish, I am more than happy to help prepare our agents for this extensive clandestine mission. My services and my life are, as always, at your command.
Long live the Emperor! Long live the Hegemony!
Feature image via 'Art Collection - The Metropolitan Museum of Art'