What makes something funny? It's a daunting question – one that behavioral scientist Peter McGraw has been trying to answer for over a decade.
The search led McGraw, who teaches marketing and decision-making at the University of Colorado’s Leeds School of Business, to the stage. There, he could observe comedy in its natural habitat: the live comedy show. With that goal in mind, McGraw created Funny or True?, a show that pits scientists against comedians for the dual title of funniest scientist and “truthiest” comedian.
The show is made possible by live audience interaction via Poll Everywhere.
I’m not sure we could do this show the way we wanted to do it, the way we are doing it, if Poll Everywhere didn’t have the ability to not only show those things in real time, but also allow us to drop it into a PowerPoint presentation.
How do you let the audience power a one-of-a-kind game show?
The premise is simple: two scientists and two comedians take the stage. Questions are asked of all four participants. Then a live audience votes in two categories: who gave the funniest answer, and who gave the “truthiest” answer.
Bonus points are awarded to those who play to their weakness: comedians get more points for giving the truthiest answer, while scientists get more for the funniest answer. (Funniest answers that also happen to be the truthiest get a triple score.)
Ask comedians and scientists brainy questions, then let the audience vote.
To make sure there are no unexpected hiccups, the Funny or True? crew has two safeguards in place. First, they run through a practice round hours before the show starts.
Next, they display polling instructions as the audience rolls in. That gets the audience logged onto wifi, familiarizes them with polling, and gets their phones out of their pockets and into their hands, so they’re ready to vote when it counts.
With prep work out of the way, everyone is ready when the curtain is drawn. McGraw sends the audience to funnyortrue.com, which redirects them to McGraw's custom personal response page. In the back room, his producer has the PowerPoint presentation ready, projecting it onto the screen onstage.
Each round, the producer displays the question to the audience. McGraw (the show's host) reads each of the contestants’ responses, without revealing any names.
Finally the Poll Everywhere activity slide is displayed, with the contestants’ answers now displayed as a multiple choice poll. The audience votes for the funniest answer, and when winner is clear, the next slide reveals the comedian or scientist responsible. The winner is awarded points.
The round continues by repeating the process, this time with the audience voting for the "truthiest" answer. Then, the next round begins.
Funny can't be taught, but it can be nurtured.
Funny is much harder than true. Funny is all about timing, and it's the real-time nature, the instant feedback, of Funny or True? that makes it so side-splitting. Audience interaction powered by Poll Everywhere makes that instant feedback possible.
There was a time where we were trying to figure out whether we could do this show the way that we envisioned doing it, where we get real-time voting. That’s really what makes the show work.