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Anthill 16: Humour me

August is known as silly season in the news trade – it’s the time of year that you get stories about animals doing stupid things on the evening news (as opposed to just in internet memes).

So we thought we’d embrace this and try to tickle you pink in this August episode of The Anthill podcast. As well as a few bad jokes, we investigate how our humour develops as we grow up. And we also look at the more serious side of being funny.

First up, we delve into a bit of the history of humour. It seems a lot of our modern day sense of humour actually takes inspiration from those stiff and starchy Victorians of the 19th century. The Victorians, it turns out, loved nothing more than a good old chuckle, as our editors Holly Squire and Paul Keaveny found out when they spoke to Bob Nicholson, a historian at Edge Hill University.

Turning to something a little more base, our science editor Miriam Frankel looked into why children find poo so hilarious and how it fits in with their wider humour development. She asked Paige Davis, a psychologist at the University of Huddersfield and Justin Williams, child psychiatrist at the University of Aberdeen, whether her three-year-old son will ever grow out of laughing at fecal related jokes.

Did someone say poo?

It turns out that one of the reasons toddlers find poo so funny is that it helps them deal with the serious issue of potty training, which they are going through at the time. But it’s not just kids that use humour to help them talk about important issues. Satire and irony are age old tools used by those who want to criticise powerful people.

Our producer Gemma Ware spoke to Kate Fox, who is doing a PhD in stand-up comedy at the University of Leeds, about how humour can be used to make a serious point, and to Cate Watson, an education researcher at the University of Stirling, on academia’s complicated relationship with humour and why academics need to be funny. One of the founders of the academic stand-up comedy night Bright Club, Steve Cross, who is also a Wellcome Trust Engagement Fellow, also comes on the podcast to explain the ingredients of some of the best gigs.

We hope you get some giggles out of the show.

The Anthill theme music is by Alex Grey for Melody Loops. Thanks to Impatient Productions for permission to use a segment of Kate Fox’s BBC Radio 4 show, The Price of Happiness. And thanks to the University of Dundee and Ioan Fazey for permission to use a segment of Fazey’s Bright Club Dundee gig. You can listen to the full show here.

The vaudeville era music used in the Victorian joke segment is courtesy of Pianosyncrazy.

Click here to listen to more episodes of The Anthill, on themes including Music on the Mind, The Future and Self-experimentation.

A big thanks to City University London’s Department of Journalism for letting us use their studios to record The Anthill.

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