In one study, researchers Alan Gray, Brian Parkinson, and Robin Dunbar had pairs of strangers sit together for five minutes and watch a movie clip. Half watched a blooper reel from a popular TV comedy—one that had been pretested to get lots of laughs. The rest watched an emotionally neutral clip—think a nature channel documentary, or the lesser-known “Fifty Shades of Grayscale.”
When researchers asked participants to write a message to the person they had just met, the pairs who had watched the blooper clip disclosed significantly more personal information. And when a panel of observers watched these pairs converse, they rated their reactions between the blooper clip pairs as 30 percent more intimate than the ones between the pairs who had watched the neutral clip.
This finding was illustrated in a Pew Research poll, showing that viewers of humorous news show like The Daily Show and The Colbert Report remembered more about current events than people who consumed information from newspapers, cable news, or network news. And in one study, researchers found that people who watched a humorous film clip before taking a brief short-term memory test recalled more than twice as much information as people who took the same test after simply sitting doing nothing for the same duration.
In one study, some of our colleagues from the Second city retreat—Brad Bitterly, Maurice Schweitzer, and Alison Wood Brooks—recruited participants to write and present testimonials for Visit Switzerland, a fictional travel company. What the group didn’t know is that the first two “participants” who read their testimonials were research assistants. Half of their prewritten testimonials were serious, the other half were funny (eg., serious testimonial “The mountains are great for skiing and hiking. It’s amazing!” vs. humorous testimonial “The mountains are great for skiing and hiking, and the flag is a big plus!”). …*
When participants were asked to rate the presenters on a handful of qualities, those presenting the humorous testimonial were perceived as 5 percent more competent, 11 percent more confident, and 37 percent higher in status.
In other words, a six-word throwaway pun at the end of a testimonial meaningfully swung opinions.