Colorado Matters at the Tattered: Discovering what makes us laugh

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(Photo: CPR/Michael Hughes)
<p>Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner, left, author Joel Warner, center, and humor researcher Peter McGraw.</p>

EDITOR'S NOTE: This Colorado Matters story originally aired on April 10, 2014.

Authors Peter McGraw and Joel Warner hopscotched around the globe to figure out why we laugh.

The authors found themselves flying over the Amazon aboard a plane full of clowns. They also peered into the world of wacky Japanese game shows, met a cartoonist for "The New Yorker" and traveled to Tanzania, where there was once an outbreak of uncontrollable laughter.

"It began with three school girls who had recently started at a fairly strict Catholic boarding school," Warner says, a former staff writer for "Westword." "These three girls started laughing and then it spread throughout the classroom and the school. So they shut down the school. Everyone went home and they brought this 'disease' with them. And it spread from village to village to village."

The authors' global trek started at a dive bar in Denver. McGraw, founder of The Humor Research Lab (HuRL!) at the University of Colorado Boulder, decided to try his hand at stand-up comedy. Despite years of studying humor, he bombed.

"The reason 'The Humor Code' exists is because of that night," McGraw says. "That shook me up a little bit. It made me realize that, although you need science to crack the humor code, to try and just do it in the laboratory really sells the topic short. And so to go out and see it in the real world becomes necessary."