Funniest Joke in the World?
I once considered writing a book on how to tell a joke. Primarily, I wanted to write the book for my mother, who knew more jokes than anyone I’ve ever met, but whose delivery left a little to be desired. Ultimately, I decided against it, realizing there might be even less of a market for that book than there is for a collection of math jokes. In addition, I also thought my mother might be offended if I gave her a book on how to tell jokes and said, “Here, I think you should read this.”
Had I written the book, however, one tenet that I would have included is, make the joke your own. For instance, a great lawyer joke might be modified to poke fun of statisticians, in which case it might be more appropriate for the next math department social event.
Here’s a simple example of a modification. The following one-liner has recently gained notoriety:
Going to church doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a mechanic.
But perhaps the following modification would fare better with a bunch of professors who are opposed to some states’ overly simplistic requirements for alternative certification of math teachers:
Going to school doesn’t qualify you to be a teacher any more than standing in a garage qualifies you to be a mechanic.
Of course, not every joke can be modified. Some jokes absolutely require a rabbi and a priest, and they wouldn’t be funny with a tortoise and a hare.
With my theories on stealing jokes, modifying them, and passing them off as your own in plain view, allow me to share two of my favorite jokes.
When Richard Wiseman attempted to identify the funniest joke in the world, a slightly different version of the following joke finished second in the voting. For quite some time, it actually held the lead.
A math professor and a graduate student are on a camping trip. After dinner, they retire to their tent for the night. Several hours later, the professor wakes up and nudges his student. He says to the student, “Look up at the sky, and tell me what you see.”
The student replies, “I see millions and millions of stars, sir.”
“And what do you deduce from that?”
The student thinks for a minute. “Well, astronomically, it tells me that there are millions of galaxies and potentially billions of planets. Astrologically, I observe that Saturn is in Leo. Horologically, I deduce that the time is approximately a quarter past three. Meteorologically, I suspect that we will have a beautiful day tomorrow. Theologically, I can see that God is all powerful, and that we are a small and insignificant part of the universe. Why, sir? What does it tell you?”
“You idiot!” the professor exclaims. “Someone has stolen our tent!”
The following is a modification of the world’s funniet joke, which Wiseman found to have universal appeal — it was judged equally fun by men and women, both young and old, from many different countries.
Late one night, two graduate students are working on a problem set. With the solutions due in the morning, both students are stressed. Suddenly, one of them grabs his chest and falls to the floor. He isn’t breathing and his eyes are glazed. The other student quickly dials 911. “I think my friend is dead!” he tells the operator. “What can I do?”
The operator says, “Calm down. I can help. First, are you sure that he’s dead?”
“Just a second,” he says, and puts down the phone. There is a silence, then a shot is heard. Back on the phone, the student says, “Okay, now what?”