Summer Reading: Rutgers Faculty and Staff Share the Titles They Can’t Wait to Tackle
Khaled Hosseini, Kate Atkinson and Sherlock Holmes make the cut for 2013....
Rutgers Computer Scientists Receive Google Grant to Develop Personalized Data Search System
Computer scientists Amelie Marian and Thu D. Nguyen received a grant from Google to develop a personal data search system that draws from social media pages, personal calendars, bank account information, email, Skype conversations and work documents, among other things.
- Social Sciences;
- Social Sciences / Anthropology/Cultural, Social
Getting laughs and studying laughter: the double life of Robert Lynch
Robert Lynch can be reached at email@example.com.
Robert Lynch has spent a lot of time in the past few years watching people laugh and trying to make others laugh in the name of research. But about nine months ago, Lynch got deeper into his subject by stepping onto a stage at a comedy club in Manhattan to try out the role of comedian for himself.
He went from watching on the sidelines to being a participant-observer – a social scientist who tries to become intimately familiar with the people or behavior he’s studying by taking part in that behavior.
“I always figured if I was going to write about humor, I should do it,” said Lynch, who will defend his thesis some time in 2013. “But also, I was terrified of going on stage. I’d always wanted to do it; I’d always been terrified of it. My other big fear is small spaces – claustrophobia – and I dealt with that by visiting caves.”
Lynch believes that humor and laughter, universal among human cultures, helped us survive by helping us recognize people who were like us – who shared the same biases and attitudes. He’d come to that conclusion after conducting rigorous experiments as part of his graduate work and publishing his research.
Standing in front of a few hundred undergraduate students talking about anthropology doesn’t faze Lynch. But stand-up comedy is not the same thing. “I want my students to get excited about what I’m talking about, but I’m not worried about being applauded,” he said. “They may like my lectures or not; but it will be some time before I know whether anything I said stuck. In stand-up, you’re judged every five seconds or so. People laugh or they’re just silent.”
Silence in the lecture hall may be a good thing; silence in a comedy club is unassailable proof that you are not funny, and that the human beings you’re trying to bond with are not your friends. Not that night, anyway.
Lynch’s first night on stage wasn’t bad, and he was invited back to the Metropolitan Room, the New York club where he made his debut and has returned several times since. He’s also played the Gotham, and many smaller clubs. He’s been funny, and he’s bombed. When he gets paid at all, he gets paid in laughs. “There’s a huge supply-demand problem in comedy,” Lynch said. “Tons of people want to do it. Almost none of them really make it. So the clubs don’t have to pay them. They might offer them half-price on their drinks, but that’s about it.”
Lynch’s Ph.D thesis has nothing to do with comedy. Instead, it focuses on how the number of children that our parents or siblings have predict our own reproduction. It turns out, according to Lynch’s research, that we tend to reproduce more like our siblings than like our parents – if our parents had four children, but our siblings each had two, we’re more likely to have two than four. He did his research in Iceland in 2010 and 2011. The country has a genealogy that goes back to the ninth century, and accurate census data going back at least to the 17th century, Lynch said. He did no comedy in Iceland and didn’t hang out in comedy clubs. “They don’t really have comedy clubs,” Lynch said.
But that isn’t to say Lynch was without laughs during his 13 months in Reykjavik, the Icelandic capital. In 2010, two years after the collapse of Iceland’s economy, the voters in Reykjavik elected Jon Gnarr, a comedian, as mayor. His platform had included free towels at swimming pools, a new polar bear for the city zoo and a drug-free parliament by 2020. Lynch was not surprised. “He made these outlandish promises – which were jokes, and which people thought were funny – and they elected him.”
Media Contact: Ken Branson
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