What is humour? Why do we laugh? And why is the root of a good joke almost always error?
Good jokes, bad jokes, clever jokes, dad jokes – the desire to laugh is universal. But why do we find some gags hilarious, whilst others fall flat? Why does explaining a joke make it less amusing rather than more so? Why is laughter contagious, and why did it evolve in the first place?
Using the oldest jokes and the latest science, in The Comedy of Error, Professor Jonathan Silvertown investigates why we laugh: from laughter's evolutionary origins, to similarities and differences in humour across cultures, and even why being funny makes us sexier.
As this unique book demonstrates, understanding how humour really works can provide endless entertainment.
Jonathan Silvertown is Professor of Evolutionary Ecology in the Institute of Evolutionary Biology at the University of Edinburgh. He is the author of seven previous books.
"Silvertown [...] mixes scientific analysis and comedy in this jovial exploration of humor's evolutionary roots [...] [T]his works as a breezy look at where laughter came from – and that he's able to make an actually funny joke about Kant is an impressive feat. The result is as fun as it is informative."
– Publishers Weekly
"Analyzing a joke, Jonathan Silvertown warns us, is "like using a pin to explain how a balloon works". Analyzing humor in general, then, as he does here, must be like taking a wrecking ball to the balloon factory. Luckily this book is funny."
– James McConnachie, The Sunday Times
"Jonathan Silvertown has written a thoroughly entertaining and erudite extended skit on the evolution of humor."
– Fiona Capp, Sydney Morning Herald
"Fascinating [...] an awesome read."
– Giles Coren, Times Radio
"In The Comedy of Error, Professor Silvertown deploys many of the world's oldest jokes, coupled with some of our latest science, to unravel the similarities and differences in humor across cultures [...] [A] clever piece of work."
– Ross Fitzgerald, Spectator Australia
"A succinct and fascinating snapshot of a large body of thought into humor, the author maintains a light, playful tone to be easily accessible to the layperson [...] a perfect, easily-readable primer to the state of the research into the fascinating science of laughter."
"[...] in among the jokes, there is a (sort of) serious pursuit of the evolution of, well, certainly not jokes, and not quite laughter either – maybe wit would be the best word. And what is the point of wit, from a Darwinian perspective? Well, of course it's all about..., no, read the book, which I guarantee will provide an hour, maybe two, of both enlightenment and enjoyment, along with the odd chuckle."
– Ken Thompson, The Niche, spring 2021