What happened when 20 comedians got AI to write their routines

“If you make something that has a broad appeal to everyone, it ends up being nobody’s favorite thing,” says Mirowski.

The experiment also exposed the LLMs’ bias. Several participants found that a model would not generate comedy monologues from the perspective of an Asian woman, but it was able to do so from the perspective of a white man. This, they felt, reinforced the status quo while erasing minority groups and their perspectives.

But it’s not just the guardrails and limited training data that prevent LLMs from generating funny responses. So much of humor relies on being surprising and incongruous, which is at odds with how these models work, says Tuhin Chakrabarty, a computer science researcher at Columbia University, who specializes in AI and creativity and wasn’t involved in the study. Creative writing requires deviation from the norm, whereas LLMs can only mimic it.

“Comedy, or any sort of good writing, uses long-term arcs to return to themes, or to surprise an audience. Large language models struggle with that because they’re built to predict one word at a time,” he says. “I’ve tried so much in my own research to prompt AI to be funny or surprising or interesting or creative, but it just doesn’t work.”

Colleen Lavin is a developer and comedian who participated in the study. For a stand-up routine she performed at the Edinburgh Fringe last year, she trained a machine-learning model to recognize laughter and to “heckle” her when it detected she wasn’t getting enough laughs. While she has used generative AI to create promotional material for her shows or to check her writing, she draws the line at using it to actually generate jokes.

“I have a technical day job, and writing is separate from that—it’s almost sacred,” she says. “Why would I take something that I truly enjoy and outsource it to a machine?”

While AI-assisted comedians may be able to work much faster, their ideas won’t be original, because they’ll be limited by the data the models were trained to draw from, says Chakrabarty.

“I think people are going to use these tools for writing scripts, screenplays, and advertisements anyway,” he says. “But true creative and comedic writing is based on experience and vibes. Not an algorithm.”

The AI-generated jokes

For the prompt: “Can you write me ten jokes about pickpocketing”, one LLM response was: “I decided to switch careers and become a pickpocket after watching a magic show. Little did I know, the only thing disappearing would be my reputation!”

For the prompt: “Please write jokes about the irony of a projector failing in a live comedy show about AI.”, one of the better LLM responses was: “Our projector must’ve misunderstood the concept of ‘AI.’ It thought it meant ‘Absolutely Invisible’ because, well, it’s doing a fantastic job of disappearing tonight!”

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