Comics Say World's Best Joke Stinks

Did you hear the one about the world's greatest joke? It's not funny.

No kidding — last week British scientists announced they had found the world's greatest joke, and this wasn't just idle chatter around the Bunsen burner.

The British Association for the Advancement of Science examined some 40,000 jokes submitted over the Internet from 70 countries.

After a year of government-financed research, Richard Wiseman of the University of Hertfordshire told the wisecrack that he claims has the best chance of working with any audience around the world.

If you've heard it already, don't spoil the punch line:

Two hunters are out in the woods when one of them collapses. He doesn't seem to be breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other man pulls out his phone and calls emergency services and gasps to the operator: "My friend is dead! What can I do?"

The operator in a calm, soothing voice replies: "Take it easy. I can help. First, let's make sure he's dead." There is a silence, then a shot is heard.

Back on the phone, the hunter says, "OK, now what?"

Did you laugh? I didn't, nor did any of the working comics and comedy writers I contacted. In fact, the only thing British scientists may have conclusively proven is that maybe they really are eggheads.

‘If That’s the Best Joke …’

"If that's the best joke in the world, then I've never had a face-lift," says veteran comic Phyllis Diller, 85, who retired from live performances last year.

Back in the 1950s, Diller became one of the first full-time female stage comics.

"Think of me as a sex symbol for men who don't give a damn," she'd tell audiences in her heyday — back when Bob Hope specials and Dean Martin Celebrity Roasts were the hottest thing on TV.

"I'm an old lady. Few things still shock me," Diller says. "But what kind of scientist thinks he can explain laughter?

"I can think of a disease or two that might be more worthy of a government research grant. Can't you?"

Still, if Wiseman wants to get into the giggle business, he should learn the first rule: Comedy is not pretty, especially if you think you're funny and you're not.

So here's what some real comedians think of Wiseman's research:

Comics Roast Egghead

"I'd have to politely suggest to Dr. Wiseman that he stick to his day job … We politely refer to some guys as a N.G.N.A — Nice Guy, No Act." — Eddie Brill, booker for comedians, Late Show With David Letterman

"If the British are spending money on this, God knows what else they're spending it on … The joke isn't funny. It isn't even in the ballpark of funny. 'Two Jews walk into a bar without a punch line' is funnier." — Lewis Black, commentator, The Daily Show on Comedy Central

"We now know why there are no rocket scientists — or any scientists, for that matter — on Hollywood Squares." — Dom DeLuise, who says the hardest part of working on Hollywood Squares is "squeezing your butt into those little spaces."

"This is a joke about a man who kills his friend. The really funny thing is that this joke wouldn't work if the two hunters were women. Now, I wish science could explain that."

— Suzie Essman, who's appearing this week in HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm and Comedy Central's Crank Yankers

"That joke is such a bomb, the government is threatening to use it against Iraq." — Jeff Gurian, comedy writer for Friars Club Roasts, Joan Rivers, and Rodney Dangerfield

"I could make that joke funny, but only if I used obscenities every three words." — Gilbert Gottfried, stand-up comic and voice of the AFLAC duck in TV commercials

"Sure, Dr. Wiseman can find the funniest joke, but can he screw in a light bulb? I hear the second funniest joke is his resume."

— Malcolm Kushner, speechwriter, author of Public Speaking for Dummies

"What's funny is that hunters don't carry cell phones. That's a stupid joke! And it's long!"

— Mario Cantone, stand-up comic who appears regularly on HBO's Sex and the City as Anthony, Charlotte's frenetic gay friend

"Scientists have once again proven they are the utmost boring people on earth."

— Carol Montgomery, Las Vegas-based comic

"Whoever told that joke was wasting his breath … and that was no great loss, either." — Groucho Marx interpreter Frank Ferrante, imagining what Groucho would say

"This study was conducted on the Internet … I don't believe anything on the Internet. If you're reading my comments, I probably didn't say any of this."

— Ellen Cleghorne, former Saturday Night Live cast member

"It sounds like they polled their lab monkeys, instead of people with a sense of humor."

— Barry Dougherty, comedy writer and author of How To Do It Standing-Up … The Friars Club Guide To Being A Comic, A Cut-Up, A Card, Or A Clown

"This is the kind of research you do when you graduate last in your class."

— Lenny Marcus, a computer programmer turned "Geek Comic," who recently appeared at the Montreal Comedy Festival

"That's the kind of joke that must be written in prison. No self-respecting stand-up comic would use it. My mother might like it. In fact, I'm going to call her and tell it to her."

— Eddie Ifft, New York-based stand-up comic who's appeared on Comedy Central's Premium Blend

"I can absolutely guarantee that's not the greatest joke. I wrote a better one last week: 85-year-old Phyllis Diller has a stalker. Not to worry, he's in a walker."

— Phyllis Diller

Buck Wolf is entertainment producer at The Wolf Files is published Tuesdays. If you want to receive weekly notice when a new column is published, join the e-mail list.