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Do Animals Have a Sense of Humor?

Pushpa Duddukuri
Some animal display a slapstick brand of humor. Their idea of a good joke is more physical than anything that requires deep thinking and wit. This story tries to find out if animals can understand the reason behind a good hearty laugh.
A dog, cat, chimp, and parrot go to a bar. The bartender asks, "What's your favorite poison?"
We all know a sniffy cat, a happy-go-lucky dog, and a talking piglet that wanted to be a sheepdog. Okay, the last one is a movie. Even though a piggy herding the sheep was quite cool, it was not real. Just like the fish going on a long journey to find his lost son. It was a figment of a movie writer's imagination.
Disney takes millions to the bank by making talking animal movies each year, because we love attributing our features or emotions to animals. Qualities and behavior that makes us human are also displayed by animals, like empathy and jealousy. However, did you know that animals like laughing too?
No kidding! It has been established by scientists and animal lovers that these four-legged creatures can produce sounds that strangely sound like a boisterous laugh if not a giggle. If animals can laugh, does that mean they can make others laugh too?

The dog doesn't get the joke

You have to agree with me when I say dogs are funny. They chase their tails and sniff each other's butt, a scene that never ever fails to make you roll on the floor with laughter.
But are these antics deliberate? Or are they just learned behavior? Maybe, they are just big fans of the rear ends of their own species. To seek attention, they act goofy and wag their tails. But they do not have a sense of humor, per se. They are more like "I am too happy to notice what I am doing right now."
When these fuzzy animals lie on their back, and let their tongue fall out of the side of their mouth, you can consider it as laughing.
Their laugh-vocalizations is more or less similar to a normal pant. Even though dogs grasp the concept of play, they might lack the wit to get the joke. But then, there are stories like this.
You know about the whole toilet paper getting stuck to your shoe routine, right? My neighbor's dog pulled this gag several times, much to the amusement of onlookers. And it looked as if he was getting a laugh out of it himself. We, humans call this slapstick humor.
Just like unintentionally bumping into the lamp post tickles our funny bone, a dog tripping deliberately, to fetch a ball might leave his owner into peals of laughter. Dog lovers think it is not a leap of faith that dogs guffaw by panting hard, and they have a sense of humor too.
There are different types of humor, including the slapstick that can make even a toddler smile or laugh. Yet, there are other levels of humor too, which require visualization and imagination, not unlike something Bob Newhart tells with a straight face.

The chimp laughs pretty hard.

Speaking of mental prowess, chimps are more-than-your-average-pet intelligent. Shawn Thompson, the author of Intimate Ape, once told the story of an orangutan called Princess who was taught sign language by her keepers.
When a researcher with whom she was familiar was finding it difficult to enter a room full of bananas, Princess came to his rescue. The researcher was unable to open the door with the key. The orangutan approached him, and asked him to give the key.
Then she promptly opened the door, went inside the room and shut the door on the researcher's face. She then went about finishing the whole stock of bananas, came out, and gave the key back to the bemused researcher. It is all fantastical to know that orangutans pull off such jokes on their caretakers, much more than humans care to admit.
Chimps not only lock humans up inside cabins, but also giggle or make faces, while thoroughly enjoying themselves. So, they can be as devious as humans. After all, they are more closely related to us than any other animal.

The Parrot chuckles

Apart from imitating human sounds and having a vocabulary, parrots have a true sense of humor; most parrot owners would agree. Their humor is more on the level of practical jokes.
In fact, if you scour YouTube, you may find dozens of videos that show these feathery creatures playing tricks, like calling out the dog's name too many times and having a good laugh for no reason.
Recently, a captive African gray parrot, N'kisi, shot to fame when his cognitive ability (that included an impressive 950 words) and knack of delivering a punchline was noticed by people. Upon seeing a parrot hanging upside down from a perch, he quipped, "You got to put this bird on the camera." This totally nullifies the meaning of the word 'parroting'.

But the Cat storms off the bar

The ancient Egyptians loved cats, so does the Internet.
Ever-so-popular and incredibly funny cat memes anthropomorphize the feline species. All in good fun. Cats may be furry little clowns, but do they actually amuse themselves at others' expense? Some people swear they do. I think, they have a sense of humor.
A physical one, in fact. Unlike a dog, cats can never be called sincere. They are just too aloof for that. Ricocheting off people's back, gifting the head of a mouse to their owner, and torturing the poor dog might seem pretty funny to the cats.
In his book The Nine Emotional Lives of Cats, Jeffrey Moussaieff tells the story of how his cat used to make the dog chase him and then halt abruptly, causing the dog to topple. Later, the cat licked the dog to show his good intentions.
Cats are smart animals, and show varying degree of playfulness, aloofness, affection, and smarminess. From their point of view, we may be too dull-witted to understand their kind of humor. They may be secretly chortling on human dumbness, for all you know.