What's the appeal of jokes about stupid people? (humor theory)

When I was young, jokes about “the moron” were popular. E.g.,

“Why did the moron jump off the Empire State Building?”
“He wanted to make a hit on Broadway.”

Then, there were “Polish jokes,” which were similar, and the blonde jokes. E.g.

“How can you tell that a blonde secretary was using this computer?”
“There’s Wite-Out [typing correction fluid] painted on the screen.”

Then Dan Quayle was the butt of these jokes, and now George Bush. The targets change, but the jokes remain the same.

Why are these jokes so timeless and popular?

To paraphrase Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie, humour is derived either from “a blurring or slipping of moral categories, or from logic gone awry”.

“Stupid jokes”, and sometimes teh opposite, “hero jokes”, fall into Fry & Laurie’s second category. The joke sets up a premise - result B is expected to follow stimulus A. However, that premise is subverted, interjecting unexpected result C. In order for the subversion to happen, the butt (or hero) of the joke, should differ from mainstream societal norms - usually stereotypically derived.

Sorry, I have to stop now, I’m cracking myself up.

your first example, the one about making a hit onb broadway, is actually a pun, not a “joke at someone’s expense”.

The Stupid jokes are probably funny because it’s an exaggeration of the truth, ie: what do you call a man with half a brain? answer: gifted…
There can be hidden venom (well, mostly it’s not that hidden) in jokes aswell. Mysogynists will make jokes about stupid women, feminsts will make jokes about stupid men.

No one wants to be at the very bottom of the social ladder, so people need some one to kick at. It improves the view they have of themselves.

Sociologists have determined that there’s no tragedy that will not be joked about - eventually - it’s the public’s way of dealing with it.

Where Bush is concerned, a lot of people genuinly dislike him, and slagging or bashing is a way of making your feelings known, with a bit of humour. People will listen if you’re telling a joke, they’ll be less inclined to listen if you’re preaching.
Humour is a powerful tool.
There are lots of different kinds of humour, sarcasm, for instance, is being said to be: the highest form of intelligence, and the lowest form of wit.

mainly, i think, it’s to try and discredit people in power. People that you don’t agree with, obviously.

There were many derogatory jokes made about Clinton, but they were usually about sexual impropriety rather than stupidity.

BTW I think I remember reading that the French at one time made “Belgian” jokes, which were similar to “Polish” jokes in the US. Can anybody confirm this? Are they still doing it?

Adding to the theories from elfje and jjimm, I would guess that people like to feel superior to the idiots in the joke. It’s nice to think that no matter how dumb we are, there’s somebody dumber. And, if that person is a celebrity, their dumbness is an even better an ego boost.

That may be one reason why attacking a political opponent as “dumb” isn’t good politics. It helps the public feel comfortable with the person.

I made a thread about humor theory a long long time ago, probably not long after this board was started. I had come to similar conclusions as jjimm describes, but I found the key to humor to be not so much an unexpected ending, but the leap to understand the unexplained ending. And I theorized that the bigger that leap, the funnier the joke… to a point. A too large leap and it joke is dead.

In the case of dumb person jokes, the leap to understanding is basically the same; the subject of the joke does something unexpected, and the understanding you leap to is that the person did it because they are stupid. This is probably the first reason people did unexpected things, which is why it is such a timeless theme.

It’s probably best not to analyze humor to closely, or you kill it by dissection. It’s like when I took a Fiction Writing class; on the first day the teacher said “This class is going to ruin reading for you.” And for a long while after I took the class, I could only read non-fiction. Whenever I tried to read fiction, I could see why the author chose what words he did, and why (or at least I thought I did, which was just as bad). Don’t ruin joking!!! You’ll regret it.

yep, december, you’re rigth.
French still make jokes about Belgians, but then again, so do the Dutch and the Germans - in short- every country that shares a border with Belgian. There’s a historical reason for that, though.
Probably a bit long to go into on the msg board, but if you really want to know, send me an email, and I’ll be happy to send you an explanation :wink: