Hot Tub Time Machine, MGM, 2010
It’s a wintry February afternoon in Boulder and a 53-year-old tech worker named Kyle fires up a joint he obtained from a medical marijuana dispensary. After smoking his medicine and waiting 15 minutes for it to take effect, Kyle opens a 10-page printed questionnaire. He sees a Photoshopped image of a man picking his nose so vigorously that his finger pokes out of his eye socket. “To what extent is this picture funny?” the survey asks, inviting Kyle to rate the picture on a scale of 0 to 5. He gives it a 3.
Kyle is one of 50 or so marijuana aficionados who have volunteered to take part in a study run by McGraw’s laboratory at CU-Boulder—the Humor Research Lab, or HuRL for short. Founded in 2009, HuRL is unorthodox, to put it mildly, even for academia. But McGraw is doing serious enough work at HuRL to have earned two grants from the Marketing Science Institute, a nonprofit funded by respectable organizations like Bank of America, Pfizer, and IBM. The professor and a team of seven student researchers have been asking test subjects to gauge whether Hot Tub Time Machine is funnier if you sit close to the screen or far away. They show subjects a YouTube video of a guy driving a motorcycle into a fence over and over again to see when it ceases to be amusing.
The medical marijuana patients will help HuRL researchers answer a momentous question: Can smoking pot make things more funny? The answer may seem forehead-smackingly obvious, but according to McGraw it’s impossible to know for sure without applying scientific rigor. “Your intuition often leads you astray,” he says. “It’s only within the lab that you can set different theories against one another.” McGraw believes that the tests will ultimately prove that marijuana does in fact make broad sight gags more funny. But he needs more data before he can be certain.