As a mission statement, it’s admirably clear.
The Humor Research Lab (aka HuRL) at the University of Colorado Boulder
is dedicated to the scientific study of humor,
and its consequences.
How does HuRL do it?
The lab’s theoretical and methodological base
is in the interdisciplinary fields
of emotion and judgment and decision making,
with an emphasis in social and cognitive psychology.
Good news: To understand the Lab’s conclusions you don’t need to get remedial training in “emotion and judgement and decision-making” or take what for most of us would be a first course in social and cognitive psychology. Instead, you can watch this 12-minute TEDxBoulder talk or you can just accept the summary of what makes some things funny in their own words: benign violations.
Benign in this context just means “not dangerous,” either inherently or due to its source, and violations can be of social or moral norms or of any other expectation of how the world is or should be. Maybe that’s why little kids in good families laugh so much: The world is constantly overturning their expectations, but not in a truly scary way.
Dr. McGraw of HuRL identifies one more requirement for something to be funny: We have to “get” both the violation and its benign nature simultaneously. There’s a reason that jokes end with the punchline, violating — at the last possible second — the listener’s expectations about what was coming next.
This brings us to puns: wordplay that violates linguistic norms in some way. While there are professional punsters who prepare their routines and practice punning on different topics (as documented here), some people just wing it. Me, I don’t think in punny terms, which is likely why I’m a tepid fan. I understand most puns and admire their creativity and wit, but they don’t usually make me laugh. The ones that do are the ones that catch me completely by surprise, unlike all those hair salons with punny names.
These are cute the first time, maybe, but on your tenth visit they’re like that irritating co-worker who tells the same joke at every TGIF gathering. Yes, I have heard this one. Stop, already.
And that, finally, brings us to what started this.
These are clever, but they wouldn’t age well in my house. Your results may vary.
On the other hand, I don’t want to go all black and white on this (even though the designer did). After all, things don’t have to be all or muffin.