Update 1: Beginning to Dissect the Frog

The Humor CodeAlthough I’m not set to officially begin my research until July 1st, I decided to get a head start. I began by reading Peter McGraw (PhD) and Joel Warner’s The Humor Code: A Global Search For What Makes Things Funny—a book my advisor, Sociology Professor Thomas Linneman, gave me to help jumpstart the project.¹ McGraw is an academic and Warner is a journalist which meant The Humor Code had enough theory, fieldwork, and analysis to act as a springboard for my own research while also having enough story, style, and humor of its own to justify it as a pleasure-read. In The Humor Code, Dr. McGraw and Warner travel the world exploring which aspects of humor are universal and which differ greatly from culture to culture, person to person. In the coming blog posts, I’ll share the specifics of what I learned from this book and how I plan to incorporate it in my own research. For now, I recommend The Humor Code to those interested in travel writing and/or humor studies.  


frog_anatomy_numbered“Humor can be dissected, as a frog can,

but the thing dies in the process

and the innards are discouraging to any

but the pure scientific mind.”

—E.B. White, 1941


I got the E.B. White quote above from The Humor Code’s epigraph.² It’s only partially accurate. I chose the popular game Cards Against Humanity as my research topic because although I loved the game initially, I grew tired of playing it once I began trying to dissect it. I stopped laughing at the absurd, dark, dirty, and twisted jokes and instead attempted to analyze them. I wanted to understand why we found these things funny in the first place and why different people had very different reactions to the same jokes. So, in some ways, the quote is right; dissecting humor does kill it in the process. However, White also suggests that this process is only appealing or suited to the “pure scientific mind”. I disagree. I hardly consider myself the scientific type, and yet out of all the things I could be doing with my summer vacation, I decided I should be sitting at a desk dissecting humor. I think anyone who is curious about the world will enjoy the challenge of exploring and understanding humor, especially the bizarre game that is Cards Against Humanity.

Here’s where my research comes in. Let’s begin with my preliminary research question: Is it possible to predict a particular person’s response, i.e. humor or offense, to a Cards Against Humanity joke? As of now, the purpose of this project is to synthesize the scholarly literature necessary to begin answering this question, e.g. theories of humor, identity, and sensibility. If successful, I also hope to arrive at an informed hypothesis and design a future study that could confirm or deny that hypothesis.



  1. Peter McGraw and Joel Warner, The Humor Code: A Global Search For What Makes Things Funny (New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 2014),.
  2. Ibid., x.


Image Citations:

“Diagram of Frog Anatomy.” Frog Life Cycle, Learn About Nature, https://www.frog-life-cycle.com/diagram-frog-anatomy.html

Image of The Humor Code Cover. Goodreads, Goodreads, https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18144085-the-humor-code



A Literature Review on Identity, Humor, and Offense: Exploring and Understanding Cards Against Humanity