Comics Say World's Best Joke Stinks

Comics Laugh at British Scientific Quest

By Buck Wolf

Oct. 8, 2002 --   Did you hear the one about the world's greatest joke? It's not funny.

No kidding — last week British scientists announced they had found the world's greatest joke, and this wasn't just idle chatter around the Bunsen burner.

The British Association for the Advancement of Science examined some 40,000 jokes submitted over the Internet from 70 countries.

After a year of government-financed research, Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire told the wisecrack that he claims has the best chance of working with any audience around the world.

If you've heard it already, don't spoil the punch line:

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 man pulls out his phone and calls emergency services and gasps to the operator: "My friend is dead! What can I do?"

The operator in a calm, soothing voice replies: "Take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, then a shot is heard.

Back on the phone, the hunter says, "OK, now what?"

Did you laugh? I didn't, nor did any of the working comics and comedy writers I contacted. In fact, the only thing British scientists may have conclusively proven is that maybe they really are eggheads.

‘If That’s the Best Joke …’

"If that's the best joke in the world, then I've never had a face-lift," says veteran comic Phyllis Diller, 85, who retired from live performances last year.

Back in the 1950s, Diller became one of the first full-time female stage comics.

"Think of me as a sex symbol for men who don't give a damn," she'd tell audiences in her heyday — back when Bob Hope specials and Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts were the hottest thing on TV.

"I'm an old lady. Few things still shock me," Diller says. "But what kind of scientist thinks he can explain laughter?

"I can think of a disease or two that might be more worthy of a government research grant. Can't you?"