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The Ha-Ha

What’s in a joke? Jim Holt finds out.

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Laughing Mask
Photo: Laughing Mask by abbey*christine / Abbey Hambright; some rights reserved.

In addition to being an avid interpreter of dreams, Sigmund Freud was also an avid interpreter of jokes, and a collector to boot—Jewish jokes in particular.

He was not the only significant historical figure who had a thing for a good yuk; for centuries, people of all backgrounds—philosophers, linguists, statesmen, and, of course, comedians—have collected jokes, and have also endeavored to explain what it is about them, exactly, that makes people laugh.

Jim Holt, a writer for the New Yorker magazine, is among these enthusiasts. His new book, Stop Me If You’ve Heard This: A History and Philosophy of Jokes, traces the evolution of the bit from the Ancient Hellenic world all the way to the present day. Holt tells Nextbook about the curiously named joke collector G. Legman, shares his own favorite punchlines, and explains why the word “Kalamazoo” ought to make you chuckle.

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The Ha-Ha

What’s in a joke? Jim Holt finds out.

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