10 Jun 2007

Lenny Henry and the OU say: "Show us the funny!"

Lenny Henry

Lenny Henry

The waiting is over and the results are in from one of the biggest joke collecting projects ever conducted.

Over 600 jokes from 420 joke tellers, 212 men and 208 women, were filmed in the Joke Booth that accompanied Lenny Henry on his recent tour round Britain for his new BBC ONE show, Lenny’s Britain, co-produced by The Open University. Locations visited included London, Belfast, Dublin, Blackpool, Glasgow, Exeter, Swansea, Newcastle, Liverpool and Wolverhampton.

Among the results are:-
• The most popular subjects of jokes were national, ethnic or racial identity, sex, especially jokes about the opposite sex and stupidity. Among the least popular subjects were, surprisingly, politics and class.
• Jokes about sex were most popular with teenagers and the over-70’s!
• Over two-thirds of jokes were riddles, (beginning with a question and often ending with a pun), as opposed to narrative jokes. Joke tellers showed a great playfulness with words and a love of language games.
• The media, internet and the USA are now the main source of jokes which are adapted by British people and made ‘our own’, adding local colour and reference points. Lots of people also send and read jokes from their mobile phones.

The OU and the BBC teamed up to conduct the survey and produce a new type of TV genre – the “docu-com”. Lenny’s Britain explores what is said to be the defining trait of Britishness – our sense of humour.
Lenny said: “The past nine months have been fascinating and living proof that humour is one of the most creative and imaginative human traits we posses. At the same time you can use humour to address serious issues and it’s that that gets us through the very worst and the very best of times. It’s been an amazing journey making this series, I hope you enjoy it”.

The academic consultant on the series was Dr Marie Gillespie, Senior Lecturer in Sociology with The Open University. Marie said: ”The survey is part of ongoing OU research into jokes and their relationship to society. Jokes are just a bit of fun, but they’re more than that as well. They play with the taboo and the forbidden, and with the rules of language and logic, and so they reveal a lot about social conventions and how they are changing.

”Jokes are a barometer of the social and political climate – and so is our survey and the series. We show how jokes don’t have fixed, serious meanings. It’s how jokes are used that matters – the social context in which they’re told, and the power relations between joke tellers, joke receivers and the butts of those jokes. The difference between a joke and an insult is all a matter of power relations and context“.

Lenny's Britain

Lenny's Britain

There is a website to accompany the series,, which will feature a selection of jokes collected from the Joke Booth, with an analysis from Marie and an article from Professor Christie Davies, a top international expert on jokes and humour. The site also features a welcome from Lenny Henry and a chance to submit your own joke to contribute to the ongoing survey. The results of which will be available on the site before Christmas.

Notes to Editors
Lenny’s Britain is a BBC/Open University co-production for BBC ONE.
It begins on BBC ONE at 9pm on Tuesday 12th June (Monday 11th June in Scotland).

The Open University and BBC have been in partnership for over 30 years providing educational programming to a mass audience. In recent times this partnership has evolved from late night programming for delivering courses to peak time programmes with a broad appeal to encourage wider participation in learning.

The Series Producer for the BBC is Kate Broome. Executive Producer for The OU is Emma De’Ath. The Head Academic is Marie Gillespie.
Media contacts
For interviews with Marie Gillespie and series information contact:-
Guy Bailey +(44) 1908 653248

For interviews with Lenny Henry, preview dvds and stills contact:-
Tamsin Morgan +(44) 208 225 7568

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