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THERE ARE NO CHEAP JOKES

LAUGHING GOT more expensive in 1994 as the Cost of Laughing Index increased 4.4 percent.

"A 4.4 percent increase is no laughing matter," says Malcolm Kushner, a consultant in California who lectures on the use of humor in corporations. "Adjusted for inflation, it means we're paying more money for less funny."

The index measures prices for admission to comedy clubs in 10 U.S. cities; wholesale prices of rubber chickens, Groucho glasses and arrow-through-the-head gags; the price of an issue of Mad magazine; the cost of funny singing telegrams; and the fee for writing a TV sitcom.

Mad's price increased by 103 percent, to $3.95 from $1.95. "We're mortgaging the mirth of our children," Kushner fretted.

Sitcom writing fees were up by 4.5 percent to $10,883, while the average price of comedy club tickets rose by 2 percent, he said.

There's a bright spot, however: For the first time ever, the wholesale cost of rubber chickens declined, by $4.80 to $60 per dozen.

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