Heard the ones about good comedians and behavioural economics?

Rory Sutherland

Rory Sutherland examines the link between behavioural economics and humour, observing what the best marketing ideas have in common with jokes: they don't stand up to rational analysis

This past week I have been reading How I Escaped My Certain Fate by the fascinating and innovative stand-up comedian Stewart Lee. The book – a kind of autobiography – is extremely funny, but it is also remarkable in another way.

Perhaps more than any other art form, it has become axiomatic in comedy that ‘you can't analyse humour’. A joke is believed to be a living thing – so ‘once you dissect one, it dies’. Yet almost every page of Stewart Lee's book contradicts this. Just because the audience shouldn't over-analyse jokes, that doesn't mean that comedians can't.