No Joke: Science Is A Laughing Matter

Want to hear a joke about sodium hypobromite? NaBrO! Can science be the butt of a good joke? Ira Flatow and guests test the hypothesis in an annual April Fools' joke-a-thon. They share the best gags in the business. Sidesplitting or groan-worthy? You decide.

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IRA FLATOW, HOST:

This is SCIENCE FRIDAY. I am Ira Flatow. It's back by popular request. OK, maybe that's not true: It's back because we enjoyed doing it so much last year. Ladies and gentlemen, it's time for our annual April Fools' science comedy geek-a-thon we call Two Scientists Walk Into a Bar.

The question is simple: Can jokes about chemists marooned on an island or geneticists changing a light bulb really be funny? This hour we're going to attempt to prove that science is a laughing matter, at least some of the time. We have a humorist, a comedian and our very own Flora Lichtman, not in a bar or an island but in a studio to test the hypothesis that science is to comedy what Stephen Hawking is to black holes.

And during the week, we asked for your help on our Facebook page. We asked you to tell us your favorite jokes, your science jokes, good ones, the not-so-good ones. Many of you contributed your favorite jokes, and some of them are even funny. We'll share them with you, plus some of our favorite scientists submitted their wit and humor, and we'll be sharing some of that with you this hour, too.

So it's not too late if you still have a science funny you'd like to share. Give us a call, our number 1-800-989-8255, that's 1-800-989-TALK. And if you're on Twitter, you can tweet us a joke, and write @scifri, the @ sign followed by S-C-I-F-R-I, and don't know if you can do that in 140 characters, a joke? Try to get the joke in there. See, you give it a try.

You can also go to our Facebook or facebook/scifri and join in our conversation, but just remember one thing. Here's the only rule that we have. It has to be a G-rated joke. I don't want to have to - where's the dump button? I don't want to have to push that dump button if it gets a little out of hand. So let's keep it cordial.

Let me introduce my guests. Brian Malow is a science comedian, and he's about to start a new job as curator of the Daily Planet, that's at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. You'll have to tell us a little bit later, about more of that, Brian. So he joins us from KQED in San Francisco. Welcome back.

BRIAN MALOW: It's great to be here. Thanks, it's great to be here again.

FLATOW: Or it's great to be anywhere, as they say in the joke world.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MALOW: Yeah, I'm not really there, since I'm still here.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: Steve Mirsky is here. He's an editor and podcaster, and he's the podcast editor at Scientific American. And since 1995, he has written an allegedly humorous column for Scientific American called Antigravity. He joins us here in our studio. You're not looking so good, Steve.

STEVE MIRSKY: I was going to bring that up later because that's a good example of how relationships are important. We'll explain that later on.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: Welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY. And Flora Lichtman is here. She is, of course, is our multimedia editor, but Flora has such a great sense of humor, and she'll be the first to tell you that, that she's here to help judge, be the jury, the judge, everything. Welcome, Flora.

FLORA LICHTMAN, BYLINE: Thanks.

FLATOW: And to get us warmed up and to get your creative juices flowing, I thought - if you're wondering how the show is going to start, we're going to play a clip from last year, and actually people are already tweeting us about this, asking us to play this one again. So here it is. If you want to know what to expect, the kinds of things we'll be doing this hour.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

FLATOW: All right. Let's go to Ben(ph) in San Antonio. Hi, Ben.

BEN: How do you do? This is a joke I heard from my father over 50 years ago, and the question is: What was the greatest biological experiment of all time?

FLATOW: Give up.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: I don't get it.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I love that.

FLATOW: You don't get it?

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It's a genetics joke.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Cross being cross-breeding.

LICHTMAN: Wow, OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: I love that.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: You can't dislike it if you don't get it.

FLATOW: Thanks, it's a 50-year-old joke, we just revived it, I think. Thanks, Ben.

That was a really funny one from last year. Steven, Brian and Flora, that was still being talked about.

LICHTMAN: I get it now, everybody. I've studied up over the past year. Now I get it.

FLATOW: Brian, have you been studying up over the year to come up with...

MALOW: No, in fact I didn't re-listen to our show from last year. So for all I know, this will be an identical repeat of last year.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: All right, well, to give you a flavor of how it could really get rocking and rolling on our show, we'll give you one more example from last year of another good joke from that show. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED AUDIO)

DAN: 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, OK?

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 HORN)

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

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It's a dis on naturalists.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Best of show.

FLATOW: Dan, where did you find that joke?

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

LICHTMAN: That gets bonus points.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: I thought that was pretty good.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, making it up on the spot, our listeners are really good at this, we found out last year.

FLATOW: And we're going to test you out again this year because we want to know: Can you create a joke on the spot? How about a contest? There's a fresh idea, a contest. Here are the rules, only one rule to this contest. The joke has to start like this: A climate scientist and a climate denier walk into a bar. Here - you finish the joke. I need the punchline. A climate scientist and a climate denier walk into a bar, and you go on from there, G-rated joke. Call up and give us our best punchline.

And we're going to post the five best suggestions on our Facebook page, and the person who gets the most wins a book. We'll give you one of our coffee-table books lying around. Steve, do you have an entry for that?

MIRSKY: Yeah, so the denier says: Is it hot in here? And the climate scientist says: Yes, for God sake yes.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN)

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: What do you think?

MALOW: You know, do you want to - I would almost suggest that for people that aren't as familiar with the structure as we of course are, that typically, you know, the next line would be: The bartender says we don't serve your kind here, although you don't have to be limited to that. But we could even toss out a few examples, and I plenty of them, and I suspect...

FLATOW: Go ahead, give us an example.

MALOW: Well, two bacteria walk into a bar. The bartender says we don't serve bacteria in this bar. The bacteria say: But we work here, we're staph.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUM RIFF)

FLATOW: Ooh, let's go to Carol(ph) in East Hampton. Hi, Carol, welcome to SCIENCE FRIDAY.

CAROL: Hi there, I have a psychology joke for you.

FLATOW: All right.

CAROL: Are you ready?

FLATOW: Sure.

CAROL: How many psychologists does it take to change a light bulb?

FLATOW: How many - Steve, do you want to...

MIRSKY: I don't want to - I think I know this one, so I'll...

FLATOW: No, no, go ahead, come on.

CAROL: The answer is: None, the light bulb has to want to change.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: Oh, that's good.

LICHTMAN: I liked it.

FLATOW: Is that the same answer you had for that one? It's pretty much the same. Where did you hear that one, Carol?

CAROL: I don't know, I've been a psychologist for 40 years, I probably heard it 40 years ago.

FLATOW: Yeah, people love the humor that goes on in their office, don't they, yeah?

CAROL: That is, but I did get through to your call line, which I usually can't. So I'm wondering: Do we have fewer funny scientists? I hope not. I hope the lines are lighting up.

LICHTMAN: Well, I think we actually have - we did some calls in advance, and we do have some funny scientists. Maybe we'll play one right now. This is Tom Turpin from Purdue, and he studies insects.

PROFESSOR TOM TURPIN: This is Tom Turpin. I do have a couple or three things that might work, things that were inspired by thinking about insect food habits.

FLATOW: Come on, Tom, the joke.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: All right, here we go.

TURPIN: Another one: What test should a female mosquito never fail? Of course the answer is a blood test.

(SOUNDBITE OF GROAN)

LICHTMAN: I didn't even have to do a sound effect. I thought it was - I liked it.

FLATOW: Brian, what do you think?

MALOW: Yeah, I saw that one coming.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: We've got joke experts here, too.

FLATOW: Joke experts here who are going to judge these jokes and contribute their own. Steve, you actually wrote a piece once in Scientific American about the funniest joke in the world, didn't you?

MIRSKY: Right, there was a study that the British Academy, Association for the Advancement of Science was sponsoring to try to find the funniest joke because they wanted to understand better the nature of humor psychologically. And the problem is that jokes aren't really - they can be funny, but they're not as funny, they're not funny on as deep a level as relationship-based humor.

What they found was another fellow named Bob Provine wrote a book about this, found that the biggest laughs, the most satisfying humor, comes from things that if you heard it, and you weren't there for the interactions, and you didn't know the people, you wouldn't find it funny.

For example, you say to me: You don't look so good.

FLATOW: No one understands that besides you and me.

MIRSKY: But I was going to say it to you later because I knew that it was guaranteed to get a laugh out of you. Now, it must be 15 years ago at this point...

FLATOW: It's longer than that.

MIRSKY: Right, we were at a AAAS meeting, and I walk into the big conference hall, and Ira sees me, and I'm literally turning green, right?

FLATOW: All colors.

MIRSKY: I wound up in the hospital later that day, had terrible food poisoning. And Ira's comment to me was: You don't look so good.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MIRSKY: Which now we find hilarious, and we say it to each other whenever we see each other.

FLATOW: It's like that joke where the comedian dies and goes to heaven, and he goes to a room with other comedians are just yelling numbers because they all know the jokes that they're telling.

MIRSKY: Right, and the punchline to that joke is everybody - the guy says six, and everybody laughs. Another guy says 14, and everybody laughs. And then this one guy says seven, no laughs. And he says well, why didn't you laugh? I didn't like the way you told it.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN)

LICHTMAN: It's a classic.

FLATOW: Let me see if I can get one more joke in before the break. Let's go to Bob(ph) in Reno. Hi, Bob, quickly, please.

BOB: Hi there, yes. Ira, I've been a fan of you since "Newton's Apple."

FLATOW: Wow, you're old.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

BOB: I admire your show. So one atom says to the other atom: Hey, wait, I just lost an electron. The other says: Are you sure? Yes, I'm positive.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS)

MALOW: Yeah, that's one of the classics.

BOB: Sorry, thank you.

FLATOW: That's OK, thanks for that one. That is probably the first one that was told last year.

MALOW: Probably.

FLATOW: You know, the bartender, the proton walks into the bartender, and he says: can I have a drink? He says: Are you sure? And the proton says: Yes, I'm positive. That sort of thing. We're going to take a break, and when we come back, the hilarity will begin - will continue.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: Will continue after this break. So stay with us. We're talking with Brian Malow, Steve Mirsky and Flora Lichtmann. Our number, 1-800-989-8255 is our line. You can also tweet us jokes. Tweet those jokes @scifri, @-S-C-I-F-R-I. People have been getting jokes in at 140 characters, so we'll see how many we can get in. 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. We're just getting warmed up in our science, annual science joke-a-thon hour, we're doing it every year now around April Fools'. Our number, 1-800-989-8255. You can tweet us, @scifri, @-S-C-I-F-R-I.

With me here is Steve Mirsky, he's an editor and podcast editor at Scientific American. Brian Malow is a science comedian and curator of the Daily Planet at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh. What is a science comedian, Brian? What does that mean? Do you do stand-up?

MALOW: Yeah, I do stand-up, and my background is just I've been a stand-up comic for over two decades, and it just happened to be that if you saw my act, you'd know I'm a bit of a science and science fiction geek just because those were really old interests of mine, and it informed my act. So ultimately I realized that I should...

(SOUNDBITE OF TELEPHONE)

FLATOW: You're already being censored.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MALOW: So that's not my cell phone, that's a studio phone, but I guess I got to go. Yeah, so I was just a comedian, and I realized that I should call it science comedy. In fact, in order to get the right audience, the complementary audience for my act - the adenine for my thymine, the guanine for the cytosine - I had to start calling it science comedy, and then I realized I could attract the right audience.

Otherwise, if I was on stage, and I really - I did science geeky humor in nightclubs, and they worked fine, some better than others. Like there was a favorite of mine that I always expected to work better. It was that I had a frightening experience today. I was sitting at a cafe, and I noticed in the display case behind me someone had put pasta and antipasto right next to each other. Are they out of their Vulcan minds?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MALOW: And, you know, what would happen is most of the audience would just stare, waiting for the punchline, and one guy would be doubled over with laughter. And in a way, I almost like it better that way because you know that - we know it's funny, and the rest of the audience just - but it kind of surprised me because, you know, it's not only the matter, antimatter, but it's the thing that powered, it's the energy source for the Enterprise, the most famous science fiction franchise. You'd think more people would get that.

FLATOW: Let's go to the phones, to Mike(ph) in St. Mary's, Georgia. Hi, Mike.

MIKE: Hey, how are you doing today?

FLATOW: Hi there. Do you have a joke for us?

MIKE: Yes, why this - my dad was a chemist just like I am, and one of his favorite jokes was: How do you tell a chemist from somebody else?

FLATOW: I give up.

MIKE: He's the guy who has to wash his hands before he goes to the bathroom.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN)

FLATOW: That's good, Steve.

MIRSKY: It reminds me of the old ditty - I was a chemistry major. Johnny was a chemist, he isn't anymore because what he thought was H2O was H2SO4.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MALOW: Chemistry really lends itself, there are so many puns, there's all the kind of potential for puns with things like pressure and potential and free radical and positive-negative bond reaction. So there's a lot of potential for chemistry puns.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, we've got a good one from Tom Robbins(ph), who sent this in: A chlorine atom is sitting at a bar when a sodium atom walks in and jumps him. You might be able to guess where this was going. There was a cop right there, and he says, you're both under arrest, that's assault, a salt. Ba-boom-boom-ching, sorry, I can't do both at once.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: That's a good one. Here's Rhonda(ph), who tweets in: Why isn't base-12 funny? Because 9, 10, 11.

Whoosh. OK.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MALOW: I know that...

FLATOW: Do you understand that joke?

MALOW: I know the old one about seven, eight, nine, why is six afraid of seven? Because seven, eight, nine. Is that related?

FLATOW: I don't know.

LICHTMAN: We have another listener one...

MALOW: Steve, you can't back-engineer that one?

MIRSKY: I'm working on it. I'll be back later in the show. I'll come back with an explanation.

LICHTMAN: I want to know about this back-engineering thing because I have this theory that there's like a formula to doing jokes. When I watch "The Office" or "30 Rock" or something, I get the sense that there's a formula, but I don't feel like I can figure it out. So what does it mean to back-engineer a joke?

MIRSKY: Well, you start with your punchline. I can give you an example of that, but I don't want to do it yet because it'll work better in context. But there's a joke in this one column that I wrote that I'll tell you later that I knew I - I knew the punchline...

LICHTMAN: Is this part of the joke?

MIRSKY: No.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MIRSKY: But I knew the punchline first, and then I had to come up with the setup. So that's basically how you reverse-engineer a joke.

FLATOW: Let's go to Crash(ph) in Chicago. Hi, Crash.

CRASH: Hey, Ira, how are you doing?

FLATOW: Hey there. Give us a joke.

CRASH: OK, so this is my favorite physics joke. Heisenberg just discovered the Heisenberg uncertainty principle, and he's elated, he's ecstatic, he's really excited. So he jumps in his car, and he drives home at top speed to tell his wife because he's having his eureka moment.

And he's driving a little recklessly, and the local cop pulls him over, and everybody knows who Heisenberg is because he's kind of a celebrity in a small college town. So the cop comes up to Heisenberg and taps him on the window and says Professor Heisenberg, do you know how fast you were going? And he goes: No, I have no idea, but I know exactly where I am.

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUMS)

FLATOW: Steve, you have a Heisenberg joke.

MIRSKY: I've got a couple of them here, but they also play into this conceit. Should I just do this at this point?

FLATOW: Go ahead, do this one.

MIRSKY: A couple of years ago, it was revealed that Einstein - this is true - for his 75th birthday, somebody gave him a parrot. And Einstein thought the parrot might be depressed. And according to the diary of Einstein's housekeeper - again this is all true, I'm not making this stuff up - Einstein would tell the parrot bad jokes to try to cheer it up.

And when this came out, when the housekeeper's diary became public, this was only, again, a few years ago, I got to thinking: What kind of bad jokes would Einstein tell? So now parrots can live for a long, long time, and if Einstein got the parrot for his 75th birthday, that parrot might still be alive is what I figured.

And that parrot might fly into my window, and it's a parrot, maybe it would tell me all the jokes that Einstein told the parrot. So what follows here is my idea of the jokes that Einstein told the parrot as the parrot speaks. Now, the parrot doesn't sound like Einstein, he probably sounds a little more like Gilbert Gottfried. But basically, so that's the set-up to what follows. Again, we're hearing Einstein through the parrot who has remembered all these jokes over the years.

How do I order beer in a bar? I say ein stein for Einstein. Hey parrot, what's the difference between a wild boar and Niels Bohr? When I say that God doesn't play dice, a wild boar doesn't tell me to stop telling God what to do. I hate that.

So what do you say to the man who developed the exclusion principle? You say: Pauli want a cracker? Wolfgang Pauli, get it?

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN)

MIRSKY: Hello, hello, is this thing on? Testing one, two. Hey parrot, I had a dream where I made love to Rita Hayworth for an hour. Well, for her it was an hour, for me 35 seconds. That's relativity. OK, Newton is standing on the shoulders of a giant, and he says: Giant, how do I get down off you? And the giant says: You don't get down off me, you get down off a duck. I love that one.

Parrot, tell me: What is a Lorentz contraction? That's when Mrs. Lorentz knows the baby is coming. It's a timed dilation not a time dilation, get it? Let's see, two guys walk into an H-bar, an H-bar. If you knew any physics, you'd be on the floor, I swear.

If Ruby Keeler married John Wheeler, became a doctor and got a job in Vegas, she'd be Ruby Keeler Wheeler the healer dealer. So what would people say if Paul Dirac fell on Jane Russell? They'd say, look at Dirac on Jane Russell. Oh, oh, they'd say it. That's the joke, by the way. That was the reverse-engineered joke.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MIRSKY: This goes on for another column.

FLATOW: That's OK.

MIRSKY: But it ends with the Heisenberg joke. So Schrodinger and Heisenberg are driving down the road, and Heisenberg says: Hey, I think you just ran over a cat. And Schrodinger says: Is he dead? And Heisenberg says, get this: I can't be certain.

OK, so the smartest man in the world is talking to a parrot. Hey parrot, that's not a joke, that's my life.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: There was some funny stuff in there.

MALOW: Nice performance.

FLATOW: You really had to know your physics to understand some of the punchlines.

MIRSKY: I was annoying people for a good solid week trying out bad physics jokes on.

FLATOW: Here's one that - Father Kipps(ph) writes - tweets us and says: An electron walks into a bar. A hydrogen ion runs over to him and yells: You complete me.

(SOUNDBITE OF GROANING)

MALOW: That's a sweet one.

(SOUNDBITE OF APPLAUSE)

FLATOW: Let's see - we had a good psychologist joke. Let's go to Colorado. Let's go to Boulder, go to Nancy(ph) in Boulder. Hi, Nancy.

NANCY: Hi, Ira.

FLATOW: Hi there.

NANCY: How are you?

FLATOW: Fine, have you got a joke for us?

NANCY: I do. A student pushed a full grocery cart up to the checker in a supermarket in Cambridge, Massachusetts. The checker didn't start checking. So the student said: What's the matter? Pointing to the sign over her cash register, which said 15 items only, the checker said: Well, I'm trying to decide whether you're Harvard and can't read and MIT and can't count.

MALOW: Oh.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MIRSKY: I think it's the other way around, though.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

NANCY: I think you're right.

MIRSKY: Right.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MIRSKY: The punchline of that one is the other way.

MALOW: Oh.

MIRSKY: Harvard and can't count...

NANCY: It's funnier the other way.

MIRSKY: ...or MIT and can't read.

NANCY: That's right. I can't figure out whether you're MIT and can't read or Harvard and can't count.

MIRSKY: Right.

FLATOW: It's still funny.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: There you go. There you go. Thank you. Thank you for that joke, Nancy. And thank you, Steve, for straightening that out.

MIRSKY: Well, I used that joke in a column many years ago, too.

FLATOW: Oh, yeah?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MIRSKY: Yeah. Because I was actually in line in Cambridge, and it's the only town in America that says 12 items or fewer.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: We have another joke from one of our favorite guests, Howard Markel. I'm going to play it now.

DR. HOWARD MARKEL: Hi. This is Howard Markel from the University of Michigan. And here's my April Fools' joke. A doctor comes into a patient's examination room, and he's all nervous and bothered. He tells the patient, look, I have some bad news and some very bad news for you. Well, the patient bucks himself up, and he says, OK, Doc, give me the bad news first. The doctor says, well, I've just reviewed your lab test...

FLATOW: Oh, we lost the joke.

LICHTMAN: Oh. Oh, no.

MARKEL: The patient, understandably upset, says...

LICHTMAN: I think we just missed the whole punchline. But let's...

MARKEL: The doctor says, well, I've just reviewed your lab tests, so they conclude that you only have 24 hours to live. The patient, understandably upset says, bad news? Twenty-four hours to live, that's terrible news. What could possibly be worse? The doctor says...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: Oh, man.

MIRSKY: His lab results were 12 hours old.

FLATOW: Twelve hours old, right.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, right. Exactly.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARKEL: Hi. This is Howard Markel.

FLATOW: Thank you, Howard. We've had enough.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: Sorry. That - this is my fault.

FLATOW: This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR, although they'll probably disown us after this show.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: We're here - we're talking about our annual joke show here with Flora Lichtman and Brian Malow and Steve Mirsky. And a lot of tweets coming in and phone calls. 1-800-989-8255. This is a joke that Flora especially is going to like - a tweet that just came in. And I know she's going to like it. From urban interior, it says why was the mushroom invited to the party?

LICHTMAN: Why was the mushroom invited...

FLATOW: Your favorite subject.

LICHTMAN: Because he's...

FLATOW: One of your...

LICHTMAN: Let me guess. Because he's a fungi?

FLATOW: Yes.

LICHTMAN: Yes.

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

(SOUNDBITE OF DRUM ROLL)

FLATOW: He's a fun guy.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: I love that one.

FLATOW: But you knew it.

LICHTMAN: Yeah, that is a little bit sad. We have another listener joke here that covers a few fields of science.

STEVEN FOSTER: This is an April Fools' joke from Steven Foster(ph) in Concord, California.

MIRSKY: I love his music.

FOSTER: A chemist walks into his office and sees a fire in his wastebasket - aha, intense exothermic reaction. He looks up. He sees a pitcher of water on his windowsill - ha. High specific heat. He pours the water on the fire and puts out the fire. An engineer walks into his office and sees a wastebasket fire. He looks up and sees the pitcher of water on the windowsill. He picks up the water and pours on the fire exactly the right amount of water to put the fire out - no more, no less.

A mathematician walks into his office and sees a fire in his wastebasket. He looks up and sees the pitcher of water on the windowsill. He writes an equation for the fire. He writes an equation for the water. And he says, yes, I could put that fire out. Goodbye.

(SOUNDBITE OF HORN)

FLATOW: There was a variation on that. That's already been done...

LICHTMAN: I think we did have a variation on that.

FLATOW: ...it's called it's already been done. He doesn't put it out because the mathematician says, yeah, that's already been done.

MIRSKY: That's better.

FLATOW: We have also another guest, another guest scientist who...

LICHTMAN: We do. We have, for example, Neil deGrasse Tyson, who absolutely is a funny...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: ...a funny guy. We've had him on the show recently.

FLATOW: But can he tell a good joke?

LICHTMAN: Well, so let's let the listeners be the judge.

DR. NEIL DEGRASSE TYSON: This is Neil deGrasse Tyson with some words to the wise. In that search for the perfect soulmate, make sure it's an astrophysicist. That way, you'll always know where they are at night.

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FLATOW: Yes. Cerebral.

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MALOW: Yeah. I've got an obscure physics relationship line that I've always liked which is that - talking about how no matter how old we get, we really don't know that much about the opposite sex. Women have passed through my life like exotic particles through a cloud chamber, leaving only vapor trails for me to study for clues to their nature.

MIRSKY: Ooh.

MALOW: So you can't even do a rim shot because it's almost more like poetry than a joke.

MIRSKY: Exactly.

LICHTMAN: Yeah.

MIRSKY: That was - that's actually...

MALOW: Yes.

MIRSKY: ...quite beautiful. It's elegant in fact but...

FLATOW: Here's a...

MALOW: Thank you, Steve.

MIRSKY: It's not a joke, yeah.

FLATOW: Here's a holiday joke tweeted in by Roy Calvin(ph) who says how can you...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: How can you identify a gefilte fish in the ocean?

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MIRSKY: Gefilte fish.

FLATOW: Yeah. Steve...

MIRSKY: I wouldn't carp on this, you know?

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MALOW: Oh.

FLATOW: By the carrots on its back.

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FLATOW: You like that. There are a lot of jokes. Some people, you know, like water and hydrogen-peroxide jokes, the H2O-H2O2 jokes, a lot of variations and how do you, you know, how do you tell a wet brunette from a wet blonde? One smells like H2O. One smells like H2O2. That was tweeted in here.

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LICHTMAN: We have another one from a listener. I was going to tell a periodic table joke but all of them argon.

MALOW: Ah.

FLATOW: Ooh. That's pretty good. 1-800-989-8255.

MIRSKY: A noble effort.

LICHTMAN: Yeah.

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LICHTMAN: You're pretty good at this.

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FLATOW: Well, let's see if we can get a quick joke in before the break. Let's go to Jim in Oklahoma City. Hi, Jim.

JIM: Hi. How you're doing?

FLATOW: Hi there.

JIM: Here's one I just made up on the spot. How many quantum physicists does it take to change a light bulb?

FLATOW: I give up.

JIM: A possible infinite number.

MIRSKY: Huh.

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JIM: (Unintelligible).

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FLATOW: We're thinking about it - how to judge it.

JIM: OK.

FLATOW: Well, that's a good try.

JIM: All right. You know, we try.

FLATOW: That's good. Keep smiling. Thanks a lot.

JIM: All right. Thanks a lot. Bye.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. Any - Brian, any quick jokes from your monologue you can give us before the break?

MALOW: Oh, yeah. And, you know, I mean, we're looking at a - we're talking about a kind of narrow definition of humor like both in my act and in Steve's articles. It's you have to use jokes like this pretty sparingly. And sometimes, we do a different kind of humor maybe. But I have one-liners like when we were talking chemistry puns, one of the ones I wrote when I was performing for the...

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MALOW: This one I didn't actually end up using because maybe it wasn't appropriate. But I was in an excited state, and I had a spontaneous emission.

FLATOW: Right, right. We had that last year.

MALOW: Did I do that? Yeah. Well then, in that - and I may have mentioned the - when jokes bomb, I've sometimes said on stage that that was an endothermic joke and it required the addition of a little energy from you.

FLATOW: Ooh.

MIRSKY: Oh.

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MIRSKY: That's cerebral.

MALOW: Oh, yeah. I went to a magnet school for bipolar students.

FLATOW: Oh. OK. Let's...

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FLATOW: We have to take a break and we'll try to get as funny or funnier when we get back with Brian Malow, Steve Mirsky and Flora Lichtman. Stay with us. Send us your tweets and send us the stuff on the phone. We'll be right back after this break. I'm Ira Flatow. This is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR.

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FLATOW: You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY. I'm Ira Flatow, talking with Brian Malow, Steve Mirsky and Flora Lichtman about jokes, science jokes this hour and try to get as close to April Fools' Day as we can. And we have a contest going. There's still time to answer where - the premise of the contest is as Johnny Carson used to say - a great joke master - you accept the premise, you accept the bid.

MIRSKY: The bid.

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FLATOW: Right. And three jokes were the rule.

MIRSKY: Buy the premise...

FLATOW: Buy the premise, buy the...

MIRSKY: ...you'll buy the bid.

FLATOW: Buy the bid. Is - we have a scientist and a - well, a climate scientist and a climate denier walk into a bar. That's the premise. You have to supply the punchline to that, and we'll have a little bit of contest and give away a nice coffee-table book. And we may have someone who's got an entry for us. Clayton in Overland Park, Kansas. Hi, Clayton.

CLAYTON: Hi. How are you doing?

FLATOW: Hi there. Go ahead.

CLAYTON: Yeah. You did the setup, and then the climate scientist says that's not a bar. That's clearly a hockey stick.

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MIRSKY: That's good. Not bad.

FLATOW: Not bad. Not bad for on the spot.

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LICHTMAN: We have another one...

MIRSKY: I like that a little bit.

LICHTMAN: ...in the same vein from Twitter. Donnie Springfield(ph) says and the scientist says, ouch, running into that bar hurts. And the denier says what bar? You can't prove a thing.

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MIRSKY: That's similar - I just wrote a joke in my head combining a couple of the genres which was, you know, how many climate change deniers does it take to screw in a light bulb? There's nothing wrong with that light bulb.

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FLATOW: All right. Let's go to Brian(ph) in Grand Rapids. Hi, Brian.

BRIAN: Hi. How are you, Ira?

FLATOW: Fine.

BRIAN: All right. The climatologist says every molecule of water on the planet has to have gone through the kidneys of a dinosaur at one time or another. And the skeptic says dinosaurs never drank beer. And the climatologist says would you like a glass of water? And he says no. I'll have a beer. Thank you. Stay thirsty, my friends.

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FLATOW: Nice try, Brian.

BRIAN: Thank you.

FLATOW: Have a good weekend.

MIRSKY: It's reminiscent of an old W.C. Fields line that we can't say on the radio.

FLATOW: But it shows how hard it is to make that...

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FLATOW: ...how hard it is to write a joke, right?

MIRSKY: A good joke.

FLATOW: A good joke takes, you know, laughter on the 37th floor or something like that. What? All those famous comedians sitting around on a...

MIRSKY: "The Sid Caesar Show."

FLATOW: "The Sid Caesar Show." Sitting around a room.

LICHTMAN: We've got another listener joke about minerals, which I thought this was kind of a tough topic. We don't see a lot of mineral jokes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Did you hear about a piece of quartz that got excited every time it saw potatoes, carrots or beets? Mm-hmm. It was rutilated. Root...

MIRSKY: Elated.

FLATOW: Elated.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: That was pretty good. It was root...

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LICHTMAN: There you go.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MIRSKY: When the rim shots are funnier than the jokes...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MIRSKY: ...that's a problem.

FLATOW: Here's our - here's a joke coming in - a tweet from Adam Larkin who says when do bad things happen to good people? When delta G is negative.

MIRSKY: When delta G is negative.

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MALOW: See now, so...

LICHTMAN: That was, I think it's actually...

MALOW: Delta G is a measure of...

FLATOW: Brian, you understand that?

MALOW: Well, no idea.

MIRSKY: Free energy.

MALOW: I don't quite. But let - I have a joke...

FLATOW: Yeah.

MALOW: ...using delta G as the measure of spontaneity in a chemical reaction. So like I had a joke where they - the American Chemical Society asked me if I could be off the cuff, and I said I'm so spontaneous I have a negative delta G. A negative delta G means that the reaction will happen very easily without the addition of energy. So now, what does the joke mean?

FLATOW: I don't know.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: All right. Here's a good - here's an interesting mathematics joke tweeted in by BYOV Games. Why do mathematicians confuse Halloween and Christmas? Because Oct. 31 equals Dec. 25.

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FLATOW: It went over your head.

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LICHTMAN: That is the airplane going over my head.

FLATOW: You - Steve, you want to explain that one?

MIRSKY: All right. I think it's a...

MALOW: Yeah.

MIRSKY: ...base mathematical...

FLATOW: Base eight?

MIRSKY: ...right...

MALOW: Yeah.

MIRSKY: ...base jokes. And, you know...

FLATOW: Base eight, 31...

MIRSKY: Certainly clever.

FLATOW: ...equals decimal 25.

MIRSKY: Right.

FLATOW: I like that one.

MIRSKY: It's clever.

FLATOW: That's an ultimate geek joke, Brian.

MALOW: Yeah.

MIRSKY: You're not going to get a big belly laugh out of it...

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MIRSKY: ...but it's clever.

MALOW: Probably not even with the ideal audience.

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LICHTMAN: We've got a few more entries.

FLATOW: Go ahead.

LICHTMAN: OK. So this is into the joke contest one. The scientist says two beers. As it pours, the denier moves his glass to one side because he refuses to accept the mainstream.

MIRSKY: Mm-hmm.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

MALOW: It's kind of clever.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

LICHTMAN: There's one more. You want to hear one more.

FLATOW: Yeah. One more.

LICHTMAN: Layton Pritchard(ph): the scientist says two beers. As it pours, yup, same thing.

FLATOW: Same what?

LICHTMAN: So I'm just going to give myself a groan.

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MALOW: Oh.

FLATOW: Here's a tweet from Frank Amsted(ph) . He says: This is a line used by my son repeatedly. If I were an enzyme, I'd be DNA helicase, so I could unzip your genes.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MIRSKY: That kid's going to get suspended from school.

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FLATOW: But a kid's thinking about that. Just imagine how geeky that kid must be that he's thinking, you know? Let's get one more from Jeff(ph) in Jacksonville, Florida. Hi Jeff.

JEFF: Hey. How are you?

FLATOW: Hi there. Go ahead.

JEFF: So one optical physicist walks into another optical physicist's lab and says, what's new? And the other one turns to him and says, C over lambda, of course.

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JEFF: And I know, this is such a - yeah, I know.

FLATOW: Jeff, you want to explain that one?

MALOW: It's...

JEFF: Sure. The speed of light is equal to the wavelength of light times the frequency of light, lambda nu. So nu is equal to C over lambda.

FLATOW: Oh.

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JEFF: All right. I got a couple of others if you want.

LICHTMAN: I'll just represent...

FLATOW: You got one more? Go ahead. You get...

JEFF: Sure. So a mathematician and an engineer walk into a room and there's a beautiful woman at the other side of the room and she says, whoever reaches me can have me. But you have a condition. You can only go half the distance each time. And the mathematician goes, oh no. I'll never reach her. And the engineer says, yeah. But I'll get close enough.

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FLATOW: You got one more? Because you're on a roll, as they say.

JEFF: Oh - I'm on a roll? Sure. So a guy in a hot air balloon is lost, floating over the countryside. He sees a person down below standing in a field for some reason and says, where am I? And the person just looks up at him and then he drifts away. About half an hour later, he's still lost, and he's coming back, and he sees that same person in the field. And the guy looks up at him and goes, in a hot air balloon. And the guy in the balloon says to the guy in the field, you're a mathematician, aren't you? He says, yes. How did you know? Three reasons: your answer is perfectly correct, it took you a long time to answer, and it was completely useless.

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FLATOW: That's great. Great. Thank you, Jeff. Thank you.

JEFF: All right.

FLATOW: Thank you.

JEFF: No problem.

FLATOW: And it reminds me, Steve, of something you had in one of your columns about Watson and Sherlock Holmes, the Sherlock Holmes joke.

MIRSKY: Right.

FLATOW: Tell that joke. That's a great classic.

MIRSKY: Well, that was the one that was, at the time, I think the research went on and they superseded that joke. But it was allegedly the funniest joke in the world...

FLATOW: Right.

MIRSKY: ...that that research effort came up with. And it was Sherlock Holmes and Watson are out camping. And Holmes says to Watson, look up at the stars and tell me what you can deduce. And Watson says, that we are infinitesimal creatures on a tiny planet, and our lives are virtually meaningless. And Holmes says, no. It means somebody stole our tent!

FLATOW: ...You idiot.

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FLATOW: Great deduction.

LICHTMAN: We've got an earth science joke from Heidi from Minnesota. She says: What does the fossil say when he is offered sushi? Any guesses? What does the fossil say...

FLATOW: Fossil say...

LICHTMAN: ...when he's offered sushi?

FLATOW: I give up.

LICHTMAN: I don't normally like raw fish, but I'll trilobite.

FLATOW: I'll trilobite.

LICHTMAN: I'll trilobite.

FLATOW: I got it. That's cool. I like that. Let's go to Brad in Deadwood, South Dakota, on the phone. Hi Brad.

BRAD: Hi Ira. Flora.

LICHTMAN: Hi.

BRAD: Have you heard the one about the phlebotomist that wrote a romance novel?

FLATOW: No, we didn't.

BRAD: It's about two corpuscles who loved in vein.

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FLATOW: That's good. Got anymore, Brad, or are you a corpuscular person?

BRAD: Oh, not necessarily, but I'm racking my brain to find out how funny a climate scientist and a denier can be. I'm working on it.

FLATOW: OK.

BRAD: I'm working.

FLATOW: All right. Thanks for calling. 1-800-989-8255. We have time for a couple of more jokes. But let's see - let's - here's a tweet from keepmehonest(ph): What did the oxygen molecule say to the ozone? Two's company, three is a crowd. Ha-ha.

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LICHTMAN: Is there a way to make these science jokes not like dad jokes?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: Does anybody have any ideas? Like they all are like dad jokes, right? Or is it just me? Do...

MIRSKY: No, they are like dad jokes. You're absolutely right.

FLATOW: Let's see - well, I have my - here's a change of pace. From Chuck in Cincinnati. Hi Chuck.

CHUCK: Hi guys. I've got a limerick in two verses for you.

FLATOW: OK. Let's hear them.

CHUCK: I love it in chemistry class. I must bust my buns just to pass. So I wait for my turn to cause some something to burn, whether solid or liquid or gas. And sometimes the stuff just goes boom as a cloud emanates through the room. Was it exo or endo? Well, I just pretend, oh, I wasn't the one to perfume.

FLATOW: Hmm.

MIRSKY: It's...

FLATOW: Yeah, he's good.

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FLATOW: How long you have - Chuck, how long have you known that joke for?

CHUCK: I wrote this about 20 years ago for my chemistry class on Limerick Day.

FLATOW: Hmm. Well - and I got - I have a tweet for you from Christopher Harris(ph). He says: Gold walks into a bar. Bartender says, Au. I like...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

LICHTMAN: We've got one from Tom Turpin...

FLATOW: Pretty good. Thanks for calling.

LICHTMAN: ...who also has a ditty.

TURPIN: And then there's a little ditty that I've used some talking about food habits. The June bug hath a gaudy wing, the lightning bug a flame. The bed bug has no wings at all, but he gets there just the same. Use these as you see fit.

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FLATOW: Eric Cox(ph) writes: A bar walks into a physicist. Wait, wrong frame of reference.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MIRSKY: That's good.

MALOW: Oh.

MIRSKY: I like it.

LICHTMAN: I like it.

FLATOW: Now, we have - Dot Not(ph) writes: Know any good jokes about sodium? Na.

LICHTMAN: I think that's pretty good too.

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LICHTMAN: We got one from - we have more - time for one scientist joke?

FLATOW: Sure. Sure.

LICHTMAN: This is from Lawrence Krauss.

PROFESSOR LAWRENCE KRAUSS: Hi. This is Lawrence Krauss. I'm Foundation Professor and director of the Origins Project at Arizona State University. I have two science jokes, one a science joke and one a math joke. The first is the only real cosmology joke I know. Someone like me is giving a lecture, a public lecture, and they're pointing out about the life of the sun. And...

FLATOW: We lost him.

LICHTMAN: We lost him.

FLATOW: We lost him. Well...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: Let me just - while we lose, just to remind everybody that I'm Ira Flatow and this is SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR, talking about science and science jokes this hour in the short time that we have. Let me see if we have any - Steve?

MIRSKY: You made me think, what would - what did the Lone Ranger say after he took a chemistry class? Hi O, Ag.

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FLATOW: I get it. Or as Scott Reston tweets - silver, Ag?

LICHTMAN: Now, I get it.

FLATOW: Scott Reston tweets: And if you're not part of the solution, you're part of?

MIRSKY: The precipitate.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MIRSKY: Scotty Reston?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MIRSKY: Old New York Times editor.

FLATOW: Old New York Times editor.

MIRSKY: Yeah.

FLATOW: Are you going to be appearing anywhere, Brian? We're running out of time. Are you going to appear anywhere doing standup that we could tell people about?

MALOW: Well, right now, I'm going to be participating - I'm going to do a show at the Philadelphia Science Festival coming up on April 24 for the Chemical Heritage Foundation. And then at the end of April, the USA Science and Engineering Festival, I'm doing many events all throughout it on various stages and along with the National Academies.

FLATOW: Yeah. Well, that's a great venue. And, Steve, you're just going to be hanging out at...

MIRSKY: I'm going home with you tonight.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

FLATOW: I got to get extra train ticket. Thank you both, Brian Malow and Steve Mirsky, editor and podcast editor at Scientific American. He writes the humorous column for Scientific American called Antigravity.

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