Advance Praise for Inside Jokes

Hurley and his crew cross the road to not just explain a joke, but explain all jokes. Before this book the only comedy that had been peer reviewed and replicated in double-blind experiments was the theory that there’s nothing funnier than a smoking monkey. I’m so glad smart people outside of comedy are taking comedy seriously.

Penn Jillette of Penn & Teller

MIT Press has come up with a page-turner, a book you can’t put down. That is no joke! The authors have dissected the mental state of humor and, instead of dismissing it, instill awe about the beauty of the evolved human mind. Humor at its various levels cleans up our act and plays a magnificent role in making us who we are.

Michael Gazzaniga, Director, Sage Center for the Study of Mind, University of California, Santa Barbara

What's so funny about a robot with a sense of humor? In this highly original analysis, Hurley, Dennett, and Adams try to locate the holy grail, the essence of a joke, by using a variety of tools (from computer science, cognitive science, linguistics, philosophy, and even evolutionary psychology) to dissect why we laugh. This powerful team of authors goes a long way to explain why and when we laugh, and in doing so uncover insights about how the mind works. But like the proverbial millipede who, trying to analyze how he lifts each of his legs in the precise sequence, starts tripping over, readers should beware that getting inside a joke risks dehumorizing it!

Simon Baron-Cohen, Professor of Developmental Psychopathology and Director, Autism Research Centre, Cambridge University

Ever since Plato (who thought we laugh at vice), thinkers as serious as Kant and Freud have put forth theories of our giggles and guffaws. Hurley, Dennett, and Adams go at the problem with the ingenuity of first-rate scientists and the timing of first-rate comics. Not only do they have the riches of evolutionary psychology from which to draw, but they’re even funnier than Hegel.

Rebecca Newberger Goldstein, Author of “36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction.”

The deft use of humor can win a mate, persuade an audience, or make a tyrant quake in his jackboots. Yet no one really understands why the human brain should respond so forcefully to that cocktail of anomaly, indignity, and rhythmic vocalization we call a joke. Hurley, Dennett, and Adams offer a sophisticated analysis of this important phenomenon using high standards of evolutionary explanation—and no, it is not a turgid academic disquisition, but written with clarity, good cheer, and, of course, wit.

Steven Pinker, Author of “How The Mind Works”

Independent Reviews


Science advances by asking new questions, and Matthew Hurley, Daniel Dennett, and Reginald Adams raise a lot of them… Some of these questions have been asked before, but no previous attempt succeeds in answering so many so well.Walter Sinnott-Armstrong, June 10, 2011  View


The authors’ account of why humour and laughter exist independently, and how they relate … is a valuable, if not a full, explanation. A mix of lightness and seriousness, the book also contains a great collection of jokes: from awful groaners to choice quips.Appletree Rodden, May 26, 2011  View

The Times Literary Supplement

The theory [the authors] elaborate is a detailed and sophisticated descendant of incongruity theories. … The learned and even-handed stance adopted by [them] regarding problem cases is … upbeat: they regard their theory as a provisional staging post, and a prompt to further empirical enquiry into these open-ended issues. On balance, that is probably the right attitude to take.Tim Lewens, December 5, 2012  View

The Daily Beast

Inside Jokes is the most persuasive theory of humor in the centuries that scientists have been trying to explain why we crack up. Extra bonus: unlike most such research, which is about as funny as a root canal, Hurley’s analysis is—and I don’t think I’m going out on too much of a limb here—the funniest thing the MIT Press…has ever published (in a good way).Sharon Begley, April 1, 2011  View

New Scientist

It is a clever and intriguing idea … their book deserves a place on the bookshelf of any serious scholar of humour.Richard Wiseman, April 30, 2011  View

Columbus Dispatch

It is a persuasive theory, and the book is successful for a number of reasons…though it is serious, and the writing is academic and not jocular, the topic is fun. … Inside Jokes is an enjoyable tour of the forbidden, deep, dark recesses we all carry about in our crania.Rob Hardy, May 16, 2011  View