Google data on when people search for jokes

It seems we search more for jokes in better, cheerier times:

…Monday is actually the day we are least likely to search for jokes. Searches for jokes climb through the week and are highest on Friday through Sunday. This isn’t because people are too busy with work or school on Mondays. Searches for “depression,” “anxiety” and “doctor” are all highest on Mondays.

Second, I compared searches for jokes to the weather. I did this for all searches in the New York City area over the past five years. Rain was a wash, but there were 6 percent fewer searches for jokes when it was below freezing. There were also 3 percent fewer searches for jokes on foggy days.

Finally, I looked at searches for jokes during traumatic events. Consider, for example, the Boston Marathon bombing. Shortly after the bombing, searches for “jokes” dropped nearly 20 percent. They remained almost as low in the days after the attack, including the Friday when Boston was in lockdown while the authorities searched for the bomber who was still on the loose. They didn’t return to normal until two weeks later.

Sure, some other entertainment searches, like “music” and “shopping,” also dropped after the bombing. Declines in these searches, however, were smaller than declines in searches for jokes, and some entertainment searches, like “games,” actually rose during the manhunt.

That is from Seth Stephens-Davidowitz (NYT).  I am mostly convinced, in part because of the Boston data, still I wonder how much searching for jokes is in fact correlated with better moods.  I would think of myself as being in a rather sad state if I had to find humor from impersonal sources on-line, rather than from people I know.


I'm not convinced of the statistical signficance of his weather results.

Just read that antidepressants are more prescribed on cloudy days, which seems a confirmation.

I have also heard, perversely, that there are more fatal car crashes on sunny days. Don't be -too- care free.

1986 was a watershed year for the study of joke transmission. There was a lot of media attention then about how sick jokes about the Challenger explosion and Chernobyl (Chicken Kiev) spread so rapidly. I believe the consensus at the time was that financial markets traders such as stockbrokers were the main conduits.

Here's a 1986 article by David Blum in New York magazine tracing the "Chicken Kiev" joke about Chernobyl back through many links to a Salomon Brothers conference call:

"Wall Street traders now control the joke supply,`` Cohn reported. ``They already spend most of their time monitoring the news tape and spreading rumors and insider information. Inventing crude jokes, particularly when tragic disasters and massive human suffering is involved, comes naturally in that environment."

One thing that's striking is how unfunny most of these jokes that absolutely killed sophisticated people in 1986 seem 30 years later. Here's the opening of Blum's article:

"Joan Tisch, the wife of Bob Tisch of Loews in New York City, told her dinner-mate The Joke on Park Avenue on Tuesday night, April 29. Mortimer Zuckerman, the real estate developer and magazine owner, heard The Joke that same afternoon in Chicago. And in Bali, a reporter traveling with President Reagan was filing The Joke to his editor back in Washington, D.C.

``What has feathers and glows in the dark?``

``Chicken Kiev.``

Was there a major change between 1986 and 2013 in public reaction to disasters in terms of interest in jokes? Stephens-Davidowitz finds that searches for jokes declined following the Boston Marathon bombing, while the disasters of 1986 were notorious for spreading jokes. Why the difference?

It could be that there is a difference between push and pull with jokes. Or maybe jokes declined in status when email became ubiquitous, as in this 2000 Onion article:

"My Brother Is Going To Love This Forwarded List Of Lawyer Jokes"

I've got a question for you: How do you tell when a lawyer is lying? His lips are moving!

That's just one of the countless great zingers on this list of lawyer jokes my wife's friend Kate forwarded to me yesterday. Luckily, I'm on Kate's e-mail forward list, so whenever she gets something funny, I'm sure to get it, along with the 30 or so other people on her list. In turn, I always make sure to forward the stuff I get to people I think would appreciate it–like my brother Jim!

There are about 200 lawyer jokes on this latest list. I haven't actually read them all; I just scrolled down a few pages. I did, however, make sure to forward them to my brother, because I figured he'd enjoy spending 30 to 40 minutes going through it. Same thing goes for the long list of golf jokes I forwarded him last week and the list of blonde jokes the week before.

Now, my brother isn't actually a lawyer. And I don't think he has any lawyer friends. And, as far as I know, he doesn't specifically have anything against lawyers. But who doesn't enjoy a few hundred good-natured jabs at lawyers every now and then? I mean, lawyers are like vultures. In fact, do you know the difference between a lawyer and a vulture? The lawyer gets frequent-flyer miles. Boy, my brother is going to love that one!

That's interesting. Would have assumed it would have been morning radio shows which were cruder and in constant need of jokes.

I only search when a kid asks for jokes, and I need to get my head back in 8 yo humor, etc.

You know what's a good joke: Theranos. Elizabeth Holmes would have made a great nurse or contralto (her voice is slightly lower than Andrew Luck's), but she ain't got no place running a business.

I wonder what jokes

Watson recommends.

After the JFK assassination, the comedy business went into a decline that lasted for several years.

I wonder if people simply search for jokes when they anticipate being in social company and the conversational tone is not expected to be serious.

Perhaps the correlation is with times when we are in a state where we are longing to be social? IE when we're stuck at the desk, but thinking about being outside in the nice weather or about how quickly 5 o'clock on Friday will find its way from somewhere to here ...

surely the people who go to Google and type in "jokes" or "shopping" or "music" are a very peculiar subculture

As a complement to the study, I'd suggest tracking when submissions to the /r/jokes subreddit gets the most up votes. Searching for jokes is more about people seeking them out. But up-voting jokes is a closer measure of people's mood towards unsolicited humor.

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