Why you can’t fake funny

Ever had to fake a laugh? I’m one of Australia’s top comedians…I can tell when someone’s faking it.

It’s something we all have to do at one point or another in our lives, whether in response to an offensive joke told by a prominent client or an awful pun during dinner at your in-laws. If you think you were getting away with it, think again. It turns out that people can tell when we fake laughter – and there’s even research to prove it.

Research was undertaken at the USA’s UCLA into the art of faking laughter, and it found that two-thirds of all fake laughs are detectable by listeners. Fake laughter can even be detected by those as young as five years of age! When we fake a laugh, we breathe differently and use different vocal muscles than when we actually, instinctively laugh. This difference in sound is something most humans can detect subconsciously, even if we can’t put our finger on what exactly is off.

As a whole, we seem to be moving beyond faked laughter in all its forms. And it’s about time, I say! Not only are we better at detecting a fake laugh, but we are also less inclined to be told what is and isn’t funny. Just take a look (and listen) at most sitcoms on television today – unlike the shows of the eighties and nineties – the canned laugh track dubbed over often really funny comedians is rarely used to guide the audience responses, leaving them to decide for themselves if the jokes are humorous or not.

Not only are you fooling nobody when you fake a laugh, but you’re also forgoing the real benefits of laughter when you fake it, such as boosting your immune system, decreasing stress and releasing endorphins. When we find a good comedian genuinely funny (even if it’s not me), our brains respond with pleasure, but when we hear a fake laugh, our brains instead try to decipher what the fake laughter means.

In the end, faking a laugh does nobody involved any favours. You aren’t having a good time (and neither is anybody else), and nobody wins. You’re better off discussing which comedian you both find funny and enjoying one of their live shows together rather than trying to force someone to attend a live comedy show of a comedian that only you find funny. Here, neither of you will feel pressure to laugh at something that isn’t funny, and you can relax and have fun.