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24-Jan-2015 12:48

We’ve partnered with WHSmith to offer readers Telegraph Great Reads – an exclusive offer on 10 hand-picked non-fiction titles.Every week, one of the titles is half price when you buy The Telegraph at WHSmith High Street stores or with the voucher in paper.All right—try it the other way (as the bishop said to the barmaid).Why are men, taken on average and as a whole, funnier than women? The chief task in life that a man has to perform is that of impressing the opposite sex, and Mother Nature (as we laughingly call her) is not so kind to men.In fact, she equips many fellows with very little armament for the struggle.An average man has just one, outside chance: he had better be able to make the lady laugh.

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With assists from Fran Lebowitz, Nora Ephron, and a recent Stanford-medical-school study, the author investigates the reasons for the humor gap. Be your gender what it may, you will certainly have heard the following from a female friend who is enumerating the charms of a new (male) squeeze: "He's really quite cute, and he's kind to my friends, and he knows all kinds of stuff, and he's so funny …" (If you yourself are a guy, and you know the man in question, you will often have said to yourself, "Funny?He wouldn't know a joke if it came served on a bed of lettuce with sauce béarnaise.") However, there is something that you absolutely never hear from a male friend who is hymning his latest (female) love interest: "She's a real honey, has a life of her own …At the Stanford University School of Medicine (a place, as it happens, where I once underwent an absolutely hilarious procedure with a sigmoidoscope), the grim-faced researchers showed 10 men and 10 women a sample of 70 black-and-white cartoons and got them to rate the gags on a "funniness scale." To annex for a moment the fall-about language of the report as it was summarized in Biotech Week: The researchers found that men and women share much of the same humor-response system; both use to a similar degree the part of the brain responsible for semantic knowledge and juxtaposition and the part involved in language processing.

Making them laugh has been one of the crucial preoccupations of my life.If you can stimulate her to laughter—I am talking about that real, out-loud, head-back, mouth-open-to-expose-the-full-horseshoe-of-lovely-teeth, involuntary, full, and deep-throated mirth; the kind that is accompanied by a shocked surprise and a slight (no, make that a loud) peal of delight—well, then, you have at least caused her to loosen up and to change her expression. Women have no corresponding need to appeal to men in this way. Indeed, we now have all the joy of a scientific study, which illuminates the difference.

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