After wrestling with this issue for years, I think I've discovered what might be the best way to show that you understand a joke/explain a joke to others:
OPV. It's from CoRT and it stands for "Other Peoples' Views".
So take a joke, any joke, and do a quick (one line per view) OPV: You're left with a perfectly good explanation of the joke for anyone who didn't get the joke. Plus, you will probably understand the joke better than you had before.
E.B. White and the academics in the link may have limited perspectives given that they haven't had an opportunity to think about my OPV discovery.
Maybe the answer is "No, people should not be taught to understand jokes". Instead they should be taught to write them.
Thinking is about action and what better way to learn about jokes than to write them yourself. You need to change the perspective the whole time when you write jokes and this may promote the understanding of others and of other's effort to make you laugh.
This may or may not make you laugh with them when they tell their jokes but at least you will understand the process and the hard work. Like Luis said, humour is when you laugh with each other, and that is different from analysing or writing jokes. Many of these jokes were not written before and they do not need to be analysed - they were just funny at that particular moment in life.
Example of the new OPV technique:
Joke: Why do lawyer jokes not work? Because lawyers don't think they're funny and no-one else thinks they're jokes.
- Lawyer jokes are not funny, just cruel and unfair.
- People are laughing out of ignorance of what a lawyer does.
- You try being a lawyer!
- Nothing about lawyers is funny: not their extravagant incomes, their opportunism, their inability to relate to basic human values.
It should be said that I have distorted the meaning of OPV a little, from "fully explore everyone's perspective" to "explore their perspective just with regard to this joke".
- Lawyers are just following the rules laid down for them - don't blame the lawyers until you can show us a better system.
Interesting question. Individual perception of a joke would differ from person to person. It is possible that a person enjoys ajoke but cannot explain why or what was funny in it in each case. As for teaching children to appreciate jokes in general,may require psychoanalysts to examine why a child does not respond to humour. It certainly shows that the child is slow in uptake; may be some ntrients would do the trick.