Two Scientists Walk Into A Bar

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Insert your joke here. Can jokes with a science twist be funny? And can they ever appeal to a mass audience? Host Ira Flatow and guests exchange jokes (and possibly some groans) as they discuss the challenges of making science funny, and whether having a sense of humor can help scientists communicate their work to the public.

IRA FLATOW, host:

This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

It's historic because today is our first annual April Fool's Science Comedy Geek-a-thon, trying to answer that age-old question: Can scientists, mathematicians, geeks be funny, not just to themselves but to everyone else?

We've gathered a panel of science comedians and our own Flora Lichtman to test the hypothesis: Can science be funny? We're going to see if we can prove that's true, science and comedy do go together - you don't need a bow tie and a propeller hat or a bubbling flask to make people laugh. I guess those props always do help, Flora. If this proves not to be the case, then you can all consider this show part of our April Fool's joke.

And during the week, we asked for your help too, on our Facebook page. And boy, boy, did you respond. We asked you to tell us your favorite jokes, science jokes, good ones, the worst ones. And hundreds of you contributed your favorite jokes. And we'll be sharing some of them this hour. Some of you may not want to quit your day job, though, so...

FLORA LICHTMAN: Ouch.

FLATOW: Ouch. And if you still have a joke you want to share with us, you can still add that joke to our list. You can go to our Facebook at Facebook/scifri and join in. Or you can go to our website, sciencefriday.com, and add to our joke list. Click on the Two Scientists Walk Into a Bar link. And we thought that would be the best way to call our jokes.

And also you can go to - you can send us a tweet. You can tweet us a joke - can you make a joke, 140 characters? We'll find out today, even a science joke. Our number for your joke, if you want to call in a joke, is 1-800-989-8255, 1-800-989-TALK. And as I say, you can tweet us, and that's @scifri, @-S-C-I-F-R-I. And as I say, we don't want to have to push the dump button on your jokes today. So please keep them clean, if you know what we're talking about. A little discretion, as advised. It's not Comedy Central here this afternoon, but hopefully we'll get close to it.

Let me introduce my guests. Brian Malow is a science comedian and a freelance science video correspondent for Time magazine. He joins us from KQED in San Francisco. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY, Brian.

Mr. BRIAN MALOW (Time Magazine): Great to be here, Ira. You really set us up for this. I like the way you stacked the whole first part of the show with as much tragedy as possible: cancer, radiation, global warming. Now, send in the clowns.

FLATOW: There you go. Tim Lee is a former scientist and now a science comedian. He joins us from NPR West in Culver City, California. Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Mr. TIM LEE (Comedian): Well, thank you so much for having me. It's great to be here.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Norm Goldblatt is a physicist and a science comedian. He joins us by phone. Hi, Norm.

Mr. NORM GOLDBLATT (Physicist, Comedian): How are you doing? Good to be here.

FLATOW: Thank you. And Flora Lichtman is here. She of course is our multimedia editor, and we brought Flora in because she's got a great sense of humor and will help judge.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, that's right. I'm not a science comedian.

(Soundbite of music)

LICHTMAN: But I do have control of sounds like this today. I'm your tough crowd...

Mr. LEE: You're in control.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: She is in control. I want to begin this, because we asked everybody on Facebook and Twitter to send in their jokes. And a lot of the jokes had a similar theme. A lot of people - and one of those themes was the great jokes also were the worst jokes, people thought.

And there was one recurring theme having to do with atoms and charges. Let me read that joke, and I'll take Tara Kresge Summerfield's(ph) version of it. And she says: So two atoms are walking down the street. One stops and exclaims: I think I lost an electron. The other replies: Really? Are you sure? The first replies: Yes, I'm positive.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of drums)

FLATOW: Brian, is that a common sort of joke?

Mr. MALOW: Oh, that is the most common. The other one that is paired up with it - but these two jokes show up in every thread on the Internet ever that has to do with science humor. The other one is: The neutron walks into the bar and asks how much for a beer, and the bartender says: For you, no charge.

And those have got to be the two oldest, most oft-told science bits.

FLATOW: There was one that came in: A neutrino walked into a bar, and the bartender says: Sit down and stay - make yourself at home. He said: No, I'm just passing through.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MALOW: Well, now, that one, I have to - I don't know if it's a good thing or a bad thing, but I actually came up with that one.

FLATOW: Did you?

Mr. MALOW: I did - I was doing a show - I was asked to do a show with the Koshland Science Museum in D.C. about infectious disease once. I'll show you the connection between neutrinos and infectious disease eventually.

But because of that, in trying to come up with material about infectious disease, I decided to write some bar jokes like those that we're talking about. So I did a couple about infectious disease and viruses. And they were so popular in my act that I wrote more of them. And it's my most popular video on YouTube.

And I've seen them - they're all over the Internet now, unattributed, and the neutrino one, yeah...

FLATOW: Let's play - we actually have a little bit of...

LICHTMAN: We have a clip of some of your work.

(Soundbite of video)

Mr. MALOW: A virus walked into a bar.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MALOW: The bartender says: We don't serve viruses in this bar. The viruses replaces the bartender and says: Now we do.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MALOW: An infectious disease walks into a bar. The bartender says: We don't serve infectious diseases in this bar. The infectious disease says: Well, you're not a very good host.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MALOW: That's okay, groaning is acceptable.

LICHTMAN: Do you get a lot of groans?

Mr. MALOW: Well, when you're telling puns, of course. And, you know, the risk -you know, everyone would like a video to be very popular. But the risk is, like, I'm best known by this series of bar jokes, and it doesn't necessarily represent everything I do. But hey, I love word play. I love puns. So I'm okay with it, and groaning is okay.

FLATOW: Well, Tim Lee, don't you have to, with these jokes, they're sort of all inside jokes. Don't you have to assume that the - your audience is intelligent enough to know what a neutrino or a neutron is?

Mr. LEE: Yeah, there's really no point in telling science jokes to people who aren't interested in science, although people do it all the time. I think, yeah, you just kind of have to assume that the audience is interested enough in what you have to say, that they came there of free will and they're going to have a background to understand it.

So sometimes what I like to do is explain a premise and then go into the joke from there, and that works really well for people who don't have as strong a science background.

I do a parody of a college science seminar. So I can set it up with an explanation of a topic and then make a joke about the topic. That works well for me.

FLATOW: Do you have a favorite joke you want to share with us?

Mr. LEE: A favorite joke of my own?

FLATOW: Or one that you tell when, you know, you're warming up the crowd or giving your PowerPoint presentation?

Mr. LEE: Well, I can't do the PowerPoint stuff here. But I can tell you a favorite lab joke of mine.

FLATOW: Okay, go ahead.

Mr. LEE: Did you hear about the biologist who was the life of the party? He had to throw out his results. Apparently he had no control.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of horn)

Mr. LEE: There we go. (Unintelligible) the biologists around the lab.

FLATOW: Norm, you want to jump in here?

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Sure. No, it's very interesting. I was listening to all the jokes and thinking - well, the first thing that came to my mind is what - and Tim alluded to this: What is the background of the listener? And even the I'm positive, you know, assumes you know that positive and negative are different and that electrons are negative charges. And I don't know whether we can assume that.

So you know, the most innocent science joke has to be analyzed, at least I do, in order to present to what I would call a lay audience. I try to make my jokes with the assumption that the audience is, at the very least, intelligent. You know what I'm saying? Not necessarily that they have a science background.

And if an intelligent person who doesn't have a science background doesn't get the joke, I take it pretty seriously, and I back up and add a little bit of preface to it to give them a context or something, or make the joke in such a -structure the joke in such a way that, yeah, even though they didn't know what I was talking about, at the end they'll leave knowing something new.

FLATOW: There are some jokes that you can tell, and I'll take one from our Facebook page - this is Alan Holyoke(ph), who wrote: Did you hear about the new restaurant on the moon? Great food, but no atmosphere.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: My second-grade teacher taught me that one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOLDBLATT: ...word play, and again, the assumption is people know there's no atmosphere on the moon. I mean, it is quite interesting, though, you know, when you're talking about astronomy as an example, how few people even look up at the moon, much less know that there's no atmosphere or what an atmosphere is, and there probably is some atmosphere. You know what I'm saying? There are all sorts of levels of understanding of these things.

LICHTMAN: But this seems like the big challenge with science jokes because they're almost always, it seems to me, based on some kind of jargon. And actually, we have a listener who called in with a joke, which is also word play.

BRUCE (Caller): Hi, this is Bruce from Kresgeville, PA. I have a joke. It's my favorite chemist joke, and that is: If you're not part of a solution, you're part of the precipitate.

(Soundbite of horn)

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: I give that a clown horn.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Now, see I'm - you know, my expertise is physics. So this is a chemistry joke, and I had to stop and think about what a precipitate was. I mean, the fun was that I knew that the two words were connected together, and that's what the fun was.

And then I had to say: Well, what is a precipitate, really?

FLATOW: Well, we have a joke for you physicists then. Craig - this was my favorite one, pulled off the Facebook page from Craig Nauer(ph), who wrote: Heisenberg gets pulled over speeding. The cop says: Do you know how fast you were going? Heisenberg responds: No, but I know exactly where I am.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Ah, I thought I wrote that joke.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: That's pretty dirty, I've got to say.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: (Unintelligible) there's no such thing as an original joke.

FLATOW: That's (unintelligible), as we would say.

LICHTMAN: Yeah (unintelligible)...

Mr. GOLDBLATT: First of all, that one is very, very arcane when you break it down, right? How many people know the essence of the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle and that it has something - I mean, everyone knows that it has something to do with not being able to know anything exactly, but the fact that you're pairing up velocity and position, you know, this is graduate-level physics.

FLATOW: How long ago could you tell, I mean could you tell science jokes? How many years going back? Was it pre-war? Could you tell some of these jokes (unintelligible)...

Mr. LEE: Tom Lehrer's been doing it since the '50s, right? He's going back, and I'm sure he's not the first person. But he had some great - you know, the element song, which is now a classic. I mean, every lab around the country, they play that every now and again.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Tom Lehrer?

Mr. LEE: Yeah.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Oh, yeah, that's right. He probably is the first science -that's great, yeah.

FLATOW: We had a group called They Might Be Giants here, and they didn't even know that. They have a show - they have an elements song. They didn't know that Tom Lehrer actually had created one years ago. So there's a generation gap in science.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Right, and I (unintelligible) old equalizer, go to the Internet, and you'll probably find lots of elements songs or, you know, mnemonics for remembering the periodic chart which turn out to be melodic.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: All right, speaking of melodic, I have to break in and take us to our first break. Our number is 1-800-989-8255. You can also tweet us your joke, @scifri. Some people are going to try to come in with jokes that can be 140 characters. Or you can send us your joke at sciencefriday.com, where we're archiving all of them there, and two men walk - Two Scientists Walk Into a Bar. So stay with us. We'll be right back after this break.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow.

It's our April Fool's special on SCIENCE FRIDAY. We're talking about can scientists be funny with Brian Malow, who is the science comedian and freelance science video correspondent for Time magazine; Tim Lee, a former scientist and now a science comedian; and Norm Goldblatt, who is still a physicist and a science comedian.

And I asked before the break: Can you actually tweet a short joke? And one came in, and somebody may recognize it. And the tweet says: Schrodinger's cat walks into a bar, and he doesn't.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of drums)

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Boy, talk about, you know, talk about obscure.

Mr. LEE: Yeah.

Mr. MALOW: You can hear that on that same video clip, if you let it run a little longer.

FLATOW: I knew that one of you would recognize it. Let me go to the phones, and we're going to bring on - see if we can bring on some folks to tell their own jokes. Hi Dan(ph), and Dan's in Oklahoma City. Hi, Dan.

DAN (Caller): Hey, how's it going, Ira?

FLATOW: All right. This is how I want it to work. You tell us your joke, and we'll judge it, and then we'll have our comedians tell their jokes, and you're going to judge it, okay?

DAN: Sounds good.

FLATOW: All right, give us your joke first.

DAN: All right, it's got a little cheese on it, but I think you'll like it. How does a naturalist catch a squirrel?

FLATOW: I give up.

DAN: He climbs up a tree and acts like a nut.

(Soundbite of music)

LICHTMAN: No, I'm just kidding. I liked it.

(Soundbite of horn)

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: There's our naturalist.

FLATOW: Dan, where did you find that joke?

DAN: Actually, I made it up when you guys said you were going to be doing science jokes.

LICHTMAN: That gets bonus points.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: You don't happen to be a scientist, Dan, do you?

DAN: I describe myself as a fungineer.

FLATOW: A fungineer?

DAN: Yes.

FLATOW: You deal with fungi?

DAN: No, not very often, maybe some morels. But no, I work at a hacker space here in Oklahoma City.

FLATOW: So you're a geek?

DAN: Yes, absolutely.

FLATOW: So a geek can come up with a funny joke that's funny to everybody.

DAN: Yes.

FLATOW: All right. Now, we're going to put you to - you be one of our judge -I'm going to ask each one of our guests. I'll start with Norm Rosenblatt(ph) to give us one of his jokes.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Oh, one of my jokes. Gee, I'm - I was prepared to comment on the other joke, in any case.

FLATOW: All right, go ahead.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: One of the ones I enjoy most is the story about Galileo, who, as you remember, dropped things from the Leaning Tower of Pisa. And as a geek kid we did the same experiment. And this is what we found: If you take two objects, one heavy, one light, it doesn't matter, and drop them from the same place, at the same height, at the same time, they will hit the same person.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: All right, that's Norm Goldblatt's joke. Tim?

Mr. LEE: All right, here's another lab joke for you. A millipede goes up to a centipede and says: Hey, you want to join our club? The centipede says: No, you guys have too many members.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOLDBLATT: That's good.

FLATOW: Brian Malow? Can you top this, we're playing.

Mr. MALOW: I don't know about topping anything. But in terms of short jokes and tweetable sort of jokes, I have a bit about how science, most science, on television is so watered down, it's homeopathic.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Oh!

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of crickets)

Mr. LEE: You just got a thousand yoga haters out there now.

Mr. MALOW: That goes over well - that goes over really well with the skeptics.

FLATOW: Dan in Oklahoma City, which one did you like the best there?

DAN: Well, I liked the too many members joke.

Mr. LEE: I'll put that one in my act now. I wrote that just for today's show.

FLATOW: All right. There you go. Thanks, Dan.

DAN: Thank you.

FLATOW: Wish we had a prize for you.

Mr. MALOW: A trophy.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255 is our number. We've got another joke on the line here that came in on the phone. Let's listen to that joke.

LICHTMAN: This is one of our favorites.

LAURIE(ph): Hi, this is Laurie from Gladstone, Michigan, and here's my science joke: Why did the fungus marry the algae? He took a lichen to her.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of drums)

LICHTMAN: We love lichen at SCIENCE FRIDAY. So that's part of it.

FLATOW: We found there were very many variations on that, right?

LICHTMAN: People love the lichen jokes, yeah.

Mr. LEE: There's also the: Why did the lichen marry the fungus? Because he's a fungi.

LICHTMAN: Or how did the marriage end up? On the rocks.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: I'm going to give myself a drum roll.

(Soundbite of drums)

Mr. MALOW: Are you sure this is still going to be an annual event?

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Not when we get through with it.

Mr. LEE: I want to hear all the groans going on across the country right now.

FLATOW: Here's one here's a tweet. They're getting these short tweets in: What type of bear dissolves in water?

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Oh, what type of bear...

Mr. MALOW: A polar bear.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of horn)

Mr. LEE: Malow for the win.

Mr. MALOW: Yeah, you've got to back-engineer the joke.

FLATOW: Is that how you write a joke, you write the punchline first and then back into it?

Mr. MALOW: Sometimes. It can happen that way, not necessarily always. Sometimes you do say - come up with kind of a funny punch line and go, ah, you see. In terms of, like in that case, you could have looked at it - let's say you needed chemistry humor, and you looked at a list of glossary terms. So many words, like solution for precipitate, so many words have pun potential that that's one way to come at it.

Other times, you're in the setup, you're saying the setup quite naturally, and then the punchline just pops out of it.

LICHTMAN: Guys, do you think that - this occurs to me as maybe we're just in the genre of corny dad jokes. I mean, can science jokes go beyond the corny dad jokes?

Mr. LEE: Yes, they can. They can.

LICHTMAN: Well, give me an example.

Mr. LEE: Dad jokes are word play. It's hard to do it on air because, you know, generally they have more dimension to them.

Mr. MALOW: Everything we do is - it's out of - you know, out of context you know, when people - that is always a thing that comedians in general face. You're on an airplane, the person next to you finds out you're a comedian, and they want you to tell a joke.

Mr. LEE: Right, it's our torture.

Mr. MALOW: (Unintelligible) on stage - we're not always that jokey, and if you wanted - so to give you something out of context, it has to be, well, I used to be an astronomer but I got stuck on the day shift.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Yeah.

Mr. MALOW: You know, it has to be jokey like that. But if we're on stage, we might be more conversational and take our time.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Plus there can be physicality. You can have visuals.

LICHTMAN: It's a lot of pressure.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Yeah...

FLATOW: Let's go to JR(ph) in Circleville, Ohio. Hi, JR.

JR (Caller): Hello, Ira, how are you?

FLATOW: Fine, how are you?

JR: I'm doing pretty well. I don't really have a joke for you guys. I just thought I'd tell you a story. A few years ago - I'm a high school teacher, and a few years ago a test question on the Ohio graduation test basically was one of your guys's jokes.

They made a little comic strip of two atoms talking to each other. One atom says to the other: I lost an electron. The other one says: How do you know? (Unintelligible) goes: Are you sure? And then the other electron returns: I'm positive.

Mr. LEE: I think that's a really old joke.

JR: The point of the question was, is that, then the students then had to explain what that meant.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Right, there you go.

JR: And so that was the basis of one of the questions on the Ohio graduation test, I'm guessing three, four, five years ago.

FLATOW: Wow, so jokes do have a lifetime in usefulness.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Right, and the explanation of that joke could be a whole textbook in itself.

Mr. MALOW: Yeah. You know, because of the environment, we're only using we're only using recycled jokes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: I think we should tell kids to just use this for Halloween. This is like a treasure trove for trick or treat because they're are all these kind of one-liners.

FLATOW: What do you call a beaker with a college degree?

Mr. GOLDBLATT: A beaker with a college degree? Graduated?

FLATOW: A graduated cylinder.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: Norm Goldblatt.

FLATOW: In the era of light bulb jokes - remember light bulb - were there a lot of...

Mr. GOLDBLATT: How many yeah.

FLATOW: Well, give me a science light bulb joke.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Ooh...

Mr. MALOW: Well, I've got - I have one line, but I don't feel it's a very -it's not very jokey, but it's that Edison, well, you know, he didn't invent the incandescent light bulb, but he perfected it. The light bulb was such a good idea, it actually became the symbol for having an idea, which is just an impressive thought. I mean, what was the best thought you ever had? What was your best idea, and does appear in thought bubbles in cartoons?

(Soundbite of crickets)

Mr. MALOW: There you go, yeah. That's why I prefaced it by saying not necessarily a punchy joke.

FLATOW: You may be proving our point about science being funny.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: It can be obscure too.

FLATOW: Well, there is a light bulb - we have, actually, a light bulb joke from - I'll try to get her name right, Henridalique Informed Looney(ph). Maybe that's not a real name. How many scientists does it take to change a light bulb? The current theory is one, but new theories are being put forward all the time, and with experimentation the old theory may be discredited.

LICHTMAN: You lost me about halfway...

FLATOW: I know, I lost myself. I couldn't read that.

LICHTMAN: Wait, I have one, Ira, from our Facebook page that just came in. Michelle Tarik(ph) writes: A noble gas walks into a bar - it's another bar joke. The bartender says: We can't serve you here. The noble gas does not react.

Mr. MALOW: Yeah, you'll find in that very same video clip.

LICHTMAN: That seems like (unintelligible)...

Mr. GOLDBLATT: They're all Brian's jokes.

FLATOW: But once again, you need to know what a noble gas is.

LICHTMAN: Yeah.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Yeah, that's very true.

FLATOW: 1-800...

Mr. MALOW: But, you know, all of us...

FLATOW: Go ahead.

Mr. MALOW: I was going to say that all of us do have, I guess, two kinds of jokes where we play to general audiences (unintelligible) I don't know if you realize this: Not all comedians know each other, but your three science comedians here, we all know each other. We're a tight-knit community.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: We're old friends.

Mr. MALOW: And we've done shows together, and we all have stuff that caters towards that special knowledge that some groups have. And we are also capable of performing to general audiences, where we either have a kind of joke that kind of works for everyone. Or, like Tim was explaining, we just make sure that the setup - that's just good communication. You just make sure that you've expressed enough in the setup that the joke will work no matter what.

FLATOW: Do you - can you name any funny scientists?

Mr. MALOW: Oh, yeah.

FLATOW: Name those...

Mr. MALOW: Neil deGrasse Tyson, Isaac Asimov, Lawrence Krauss, Richard Feynman.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Exactly.

Mr. MALOW: Absolutely.

FLATOW: Well, three of those people are dead.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: Yeah.

Mr. MALOW: Well...

FLATOW: No. But, you know...

Mr. MALOW: Yeah, I don't know if there's a connection.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: Not funny anymore, but they were at one point.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: They all had very active right and left brains, both.

Mr. MALOW: Yeah.

Mr. LEE: Yeah.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: And I think that's really what's...

Mr. MALOW: Asimov was a big influence on me. He wrote not only science fiction, but he wrote even more nonfiction, and he wrote with a lot of personality and humor. And he was a big influence on me, growing up. I learned a lot of my science from him.

FLATOW: Let's go to Ben in San Antonio. Hi, Ben.

BEN (Caller): How do you do?

FLATOW: Hi.

BEN: This was a joke I heard from my father over 50 years ago. And the question is, what was the greatest biological experiment of all time?

Mr. MALOW: Hmm.

LICHTMAN: Hmm.

FLATOW: Give up.

BEN: The answer is, it was when Luther Burbank crossed the Rocky Mountains with his wife.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: I don't get it.

Mr. LEE: I love that.

FLATOW: You don't get it?

LICHTMAN: I don't get it. I'm...

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Cross being crossbreeding.

FLATOW: Crossbreeding. Yeah. Crossing. We cross them...

LICHTMAN: Wow. Okay.

Mr. LEE: I love that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: You can't dislike it if you don't get it.

FLATOW: Thanks. A 50-year-old joke. We just revived it, I think. Thanks, Ben.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Yeah. Luther Burbank. It must have been a year of Luther Burbank jokes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Are there any Einstein jokes?

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Oh, man, there got to be. Hmm.

FLATOW: Let me - actually, we have a caller coming in, Michael in San Antonio again. Hi, Michael.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: Hi there. Do you have an Einstein joke?

MICHAEL: It's not a joke. It's a story. My - I was the chief of campus police at Caltech University for 25 years. And my father was a professor at Caltech when Albert Einstein was in residence there. And the story goes that the only time they ever saw that man crack up at any time was when somebody very audibly passed gas in his classroom.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MICHAEL: And they said he just went into a stupor. He was - had to excuse himself, walked out into the hall because he was laughing so hard.

Mr. MALOW: And he did that every time.

FLATOW: That's what you call laughing gas, I guess.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: Ooh. Good one.

MICHAEL: From my experience that - in the 25 years that I was at Caltech, the combined sense of humor...

FLATOW: Oh.

MICHAEL: ...on a scale of one to 10 of all the professors that were there during that 25 years was about a point zero one.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: I find that - even when Richard Feynman was there?

LICHTMAN: You know, I have...

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Yeah, Feynman.

Mr. MALOW: Yeah. I got to take exception to that. And I'm only now, I'm not a scientist, but your other two guests here are. And in my experience, that stereotype of scientists, not fair. You know, scientists, more than anyone, I would say, they've devoted their lives and careers to studying - to being so passionate and studying - just pursuing curiosity. And like why does that bug do that? And they've maintained their childlike wonder with the world.

And, I mean, why don't we ask - could you even have a show - of course, this is SCIENCE FRIDAY but could you even possibly have a show asking whether lawyers or accountants can be funny, or truck drivers? Like, why scientists? I think scientists are actually very creative, inventive thinkers. There. It's nothing funny, but I'm standing up with scientists.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Thanks, Brian.

FLATOW: And let me just remind everybody that this is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR. I'm Ira Flatow. Go ahead. Yeah.

Mr. LEE: The other thing about science is science is the pursuit of the truth. And the basis of all humor is the truth. You'll hear that over and over again...

Mr. MALOW: Yes.

Mr. LEE: ...that...

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Oh, that's true.

Mr. LEE: ...plus absurdity is equal to comedy. So in science, you have the truth. If you can add the absurdity to it, you'll get to the comedy.

Mr. MALOW: And that's why Democrats are funnier than Republicans.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: All right. Let's see if we can get - we have one more call that came in on our phone. And let's see if we can listen to that call now.

LICHTMAN: Yeah. It needs a little setup, so Christy(ph) from Laramie, Wyoming, told this joke, and it's about three statisticians that go deer hunting.

CHRISTY (Caller): The first statistician crouches, aims and fires, but his shot goes off to the right. The second statistician steps up to take her shot, but it veers off to the left. Seeing this, the third statistician jumps up and cheers, we got him.

(Soundbite of laughter)

LICHTMAN: We gave that a huge laugh.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MALOW: Yeah.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: (Unintelligible)

Mr. MALOW: (Unintelligible)

FLATOW: There was one joke on - about statisticians that came on our site that's talked about them being mean, meaning the mean, playing off on the word mean.

Mr. MALOW: That's - yeah. I have that joke.

FLATOW: Go ahead.

Mr. MALOW: A statistician walks into just your average bar. Bartender says, we don't serve statisticians in this bar. The statistician says, well, you're just mean.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MALOW: Here's a good comedy lesson. You gave away the punch line before I told the joke.

FLATOW: I did.

Mr. MALOW: Yeah, yeah.

FLATOW: But you still told it very well.

LICHTMAN: Oh, yeah.

Mr. MALOW: Well, thank you. I'm a professional.

FLATOW: You still recovered from that. Let me see if we can get - don't try this at home. Ian(ph) in Rochester, Minnesota. Hi, Ian.

IAN (Caller): Hi.

FLATOW: Hi. Go ahead.

IAN: So it's more of a pickup line. So if I were a DNA, I'd be a DNA helicase so I could unzip your genes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: Oh, well.

LICHTMAN: I don't get it, too.

FLATOW: Can you explain that, Ian?

IAN: The DNA helicase unzips the G-E-N-E-S.

FLATOW: Oh, that's great.

Mr. LEE: Yeah.

Mr. MALOW: Genes.

FLATOW: That's good.

Mr. MALOW: That's genes for the children who can't spell, though.

LICHTMAN: That's a good one to use on Friday night at the bar.

FLATOW: Right. Have you used that line yet, Ian?

IAN: Not yet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. LEE: I think that would work very well with anyone with an advanced degree in molecular biology.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: I'd like - use that and tell us what happened.

Mr. LEE: Yeah.

FLATOW: Thanks for calling. Thanks, Ian. Yeah, even kids are coming up with pickup lines. Are there any science pickup lines, any jokes you can think of?

Mr. LEE: That was the one I've ever heard.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: I used to...

FLATOW: Don't forget, we're a public radio show.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Well, I used to whisper sweet nothings into my girlfriend's ear, 10 to the minus eight, 10 to the minus nine.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: We did - we had some really obscure ones.

LICHTMAN: Yes.

FLATOW: Let's see if we can find the most obscure one.

Mr. LEE: Oh, great.

FLATOW: I mean - what was that? Did you find that one, Flora? I'm trying to remember what that was. It was a - oh, I can't find it. Well...

Mr. LEE: I can give you an obscure one.

FLATOW: Go ahead. Give us a very obscure one.

Mr. MALOW: Yeah. I've got it. Yeah.

Mr. LEE: Okay. A guy walked into a statistician's kitchen and finds two metric rulers in the oven. He asked him, is that normal? Like, of course, it's a pair of metrics.

Mr. MALOW: Oh.

FLATOW: Oh.

LICHTMAN: No, I've got nothing.

Mr. MALOW: I was doing an event for the American Chemical Society and they asked me if I could be off the cuff. And I said yeah, I'm so spontaneous, I have a negative Delta G.

FLATOW: Wow. That's obscure.

Mr. MALOW: Now see, you know, that is only for chemists because the Delta G is a term, it's a measurement of the spontaneity of a reaction. And in that case, what spontaneity means is whether you're not you have to - how easily a reaction occurs, you have to add energy to make it happen.

FLATOW: All right. We're going to look for this joke that we're looking for, this very obscure one. I know it has to do with logarithms. So, stay with us. They can't get more obscure than that. Stay with us. We'll be right back talking about science in our science joke hour. Stay with us. I'll be right back.

(Soundbite of music)

FLATOW: You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY. I am Ira Flatow.

We're talking this hour about whether science and scientists can be funny. My guests are standup comedians Brian Malow, Tim Lee, Norm Goldblatt. Also with us is Flora Lichtman, SCIENCE FRIDAY's multimedia editor. Our number: 1-800-989-8255. Plumbing the depths now for the most obscure...

Mr. MALOW: I'll be (unintelligible)

FLATOW: We have had found the most obscure. You really have to understand this one.

LICHTMAN: I'm not even trying to read it right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: Give it a shot. All right.

LICHTMAN: Brian Kelly writes: What's the integral of one over cabin d cabin?

Mr. LEE: Oh, yes.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Right.

LICHTMAN: Log cabin.

Mr. LEE: Log. Oh, gosh. Yeah, it's a good one.

Mr. LICHTMAN: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: That was a good one. But you really have to understand a whole lot going on.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Oh, well, just calculus. It's a calculus joke. I mean, it doesn't require vast amount of understanding.

Mr. MALOW: You don't have to know any biology for it.

Mr. LEE: Yeah.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Right. That's right. You don't need any allied sciences, just mathematics.

FLATOW: Now, let's see if...

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Probably high school mathematics at that.

LICHTMAN: You're making me feel bad.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: On our math theme, let's go to Steve(ph) in Portland, Oregon. Hi, Steve. You got a math joke for us?

STEVE (Caller): I've got a math joke here.

FLATOW: Go ahead.

STEVE: A mathematician is smoking while he's working at his desk and casually sets his cigarette on the edge of his ashtray. It falls off the edge of the ashtray and he set - and sets fire to the papers on his desk. He runs over to the fire extinguisher hanging on the wall near the door, grabs it and puts out the fire.

The next day, he's again smoking while he's working. And this time, he casually tosses the cigarette into the wastebasket next to his desk. Sure enough, it catches fire. And when he finally notices it, he jumps up and pours the flaming contents of a wastebasket onto his desk. And then he goes back work because he's already solved that problem.

(Soundbite of laughter)

FLATOW: That's a great joke. Steve, where did you hear that one?

STEVE: I heard it years ago. I can't remember where I heard it. But, you know, sometimes a joke sticks and that one did.

Mr. LEE: Well, you know, there's a sort of a quip about that, about getting a cold, right, and just letting it get worse, so that you finally get pneumonia and they can cure pneumonia. So it's a similar sort of thing.

FLATOW: Hey, do you think...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. GOLDBLATT: That wasn't a joke. I don't deserve it.

Mr. LEE: That's just abusive, at this point.

FLATOW: Do you have to - hey, is it good enough to do a Milton Berle and just recycle everybody's old jokes, or do you have to come up with new ones?

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Well, we don't do that, at least.

Mr. MALOW: We don't do that.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: No.

Mr. LEE: You have to come up with new material.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: No, it's very poor form.

LICHTMAN: Do you guys follow people who are not in doing niche science jokes? Are you - and how does the audience react? Are people sort of like, oh, this is not going to be for me?

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Are you saying if we surprised an audience by...

LICHTMAN: Yeah, do people typecast you as, oh, that's a scientist comedian, and think that it's not going to be relevant because...

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Oh. Oh, I see. Well, I mean, we (unintelligible)...

LICHTMAN: (Unintelligible)

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Our goal is turn them around.

LICHTMAN: Yeah.

Mr. MALOW: Yeah.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: I mean, you're, you're dealt the audience that you're faced with.

FLATOW: And we're going to decide today whether our audience thinks...

LICHTMAN: Check our comments.

FLATOW: That science is funny, because we've run out of time. We've had a great time this hour. I want to thank all of you. And tell us where you can be seen. Where - are you guys performing? Brian, are you...

LICHTMAN: Yeah. (Unintelligible) for me.

FLATOW: ...on exhibit anywhere, so to speak?

Mr. MALOW: Yeah. You can always find me at sciencecomedian.com and at Science Comedian on YouTube and Twitter. But yeah, I have - actually, I am seeing a STEM Education Event this evening that's streaming from stemposium.com later this evening. And I'm doing a comedy show in the Bay area, in the South Bay, at Rooster T. Feathers next month.

FLATOW: Great.

Mr. LEE: Oh, Great.

FLATOW: Tim Lee?

Mr. LEE: Yeah. I'll be at the Coronado Playhouse, May 20th, and then Punchline. You can check my schedule. I don't have it memorized. But you check at youtubecomedian.com. You can check me out there.

FLATOW: And Norm Goldblatt?

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Yeah. I'll be at the Fox Theater in Redwood City, April 18th, and some other more closed functions, one called Skepticon, which is occurring in Berkeley, California. And you can check my schedule out at www.normgoldblatt.com.

FLATOW: Thank you, gentlemen. Thank you all for making this such an enjoyable hour.

Mr. MALOW: Thanks for having us.

Mr. GOLDBLATT: Oh, it's wonderful.

FLATOW: And we'll be...

LICHTMAN: Sorry. Okay, one more time.

Mr. LEE: One last ahooga.

FLATOW: And keep those cards and letters coming in, and the jokes coming in at our website at sciencefriday.com, click on the Two Scientists Walked Into A Bar icon and also in our Facebook page at scifri Facebook page. We'll be archiving it and letting them all be up there for everybody else to see. Thanks again, folks.

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