Episode 614: Two Radio Guys Walk Into A Bar : Planet Money We go on stage at a comedy show and read a bunch of weird economics jokes. We bombed.
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Episode 614: Two Radio Guys Walk Into A Bar

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Episode 614: Two Radio Guys Walk Into A Bar

Episode 614: Two Radio Guys Walk Into A Bar

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The following podcast contains some adult language.


GREG JOHNSON: Hello, hello, hello, hello, hello. Hey, everybody. How are you doing tonight? Give yourselves a big round of applause...

SMITH: A couple of weeks ago, we did something that I have always wanted to do.


It was something I had always feared. We went on stage in front of a real audience at a comedy night.


JOHNSON: There's two radio guys here, and they're going to go - they're going to do comedy for the first time ever tonight for three minutes, so you have that to look forward to. It's going to be a great time, yeah. You have your seat, but you're only going to need the edge tonight 'cause this is one hell of a show.

SMITH: This was so exciting because it was like a real comedy club with a little stage and an audience and real professional comedians. One guy had been a writer at "Parks And Recreation." Like, this was exactly how I dreamed of it.

KESTENBAUM: Here's how we got to this point. I had this idea that we should do a show about economics jokes 'cause, you know, we cover economics and there a bunch of weird economic jokes out there. So I thought let's do a show about them.

SMITH: And I'm like, hey, if we have the jokes, we have the material, we might as well do three minutes at a comedy club. This could be my chance.


SMITH: Three econometricians are going hunting, and they spot a large deer.

Hello, and welcome to PLANET MONEY. I'm Robert Smith.

KESTENBAUM: And I'm David Kestenbaum. Today on the show - how that went.

SMITH: (Laughter).

KESTENBAUM: I feel like that should be enough, but you want to say the rest?

SMITH: Sure. We're going to play the jokes. We're going to play the reactions. And along the way, we're going to do what you are never supposed to do in comedy - we will explain each and every joke.

KESTENBAUM: With the help of one of our favorite economists and writers, Tim Harford.

TIM HARFORD: I can explain the joke, although, let's just be clear, that's not going to make it funny.

KESTENBAUM: It does help a little.

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KESTENBAUM: Just to set the scene - this was at a bar in Brooklyn called Splitty. On Thursdays, they had this comedy thing called Myrtle Comedy. And as the moment got closer, Robert, I don't know if you noticed, but you got more and more amped and jacked up and I just got super quiet.


SMITH: I feel super nervous but super excited, like I kind of feel like we're going to kill it.

KESTENBAUM: I feel the same, except just the super nervous part.

SMITH: I saw people drinking a lot of alcohol, like this is a good sign.

KESTENBAUM: No, a good sign is a bunch of nerds who look like they just came from the Fed.

SMITH: I'm sorry. When we were planning this, I told you, David, that no one was going to show up, that this is going to be like an open-mic night, where the bar for comedy was really low. And I was wrong.

KESTENBAUM: These guys were really good.

SMITH: They were awesome. They were fantastic. Here's that writer for the TV show "Parks And Recreation." His name is Joe Mande. And he had this whole routine about the rapper Macklemore.


JOE MANDE: And Macklemore's sort of like a controversial, polarizing figure in hip hop. And, like, I don't know where you guys stand on Macklemore, but one undeniable fact about Macklemore is that he's the worst - he's the worst rapper...


MANDE: ...Hate his music. And the problem with Macklemore is he's, like, super self-righteous, but he's also stupid, which is, like, a bad mix.

KESTENBAUM: Robert, at some point you looked over at me and I saw you take a napkin and dab your forehead. And I said, is that real? Like, were you really sweating?

SMITH: I was sweating.

KESTENBAUM: We were up next.


JOHNSON: This next one's going to be real brief, and it's going to be real interesting. From PLANET MONEY by NPR, ladies and gentlemen, please give a big round of applause for David Kestenbaum and Robert Smith.


JOHNSON: Let them know.

KESTENBAUM: Robert, you read the first joke - literally, read it off a piece of paper.


SMITH: Three econometricians go hunting, and they spot a large deer. The first econometrician fires, but his shot goes 3 feet wide to the left. The second econometrician, he fires also, but he misses. His shot goes 3 feet to the right. The third econometrician starts jumping up and down, shouting we got it, we got it.


SMITH: Not bad, I mean, for the first joke. We're just warming them up.

HARFORD: They were kind.

SMITH: We played our set for Tim Harford, an economist and writer. In fact, he helped us come up with some of these jokes, so he's partially responsible. And we're going to bring him in after each of the jokes to help explain the idea behind them.

HARFORD: The first thing you need to know is an econometrician is someone who does economic statistics, and what you need to know about statistics is there's always a margin for error. And so when these two economic statisticians, these two econometricians, shoot for the deer and one shot just goes to one side of the deer and the other shot goes to the other side of the deer, the deer is within the margin of error, so they got the deer.


SMITH: The third econometrician starts jumping up and down, shouting we got it, we got it.

HARFORD: It still isn't funny, though, is it?

KESTENBAUM: Next joke.


KESTENBAUM: How many Chicago school economists does it take to change a light bulb? None. If the light bulb needed changing, the market would've done it already.


SMITH: All right. All right, that's good. That's about free market economists. But here is the rebuttal joke. How many Keynesian economists does it take to change a light bulb? All of them because you'll generate employment, more consumption, dislocating the aggregate demand to the right.

KESTENBAUM: That one killed.

HARFORD: It's just a terrible joke (laughter). Like, even by the standards of these jokes, that joke sucks.

SMITH: It says something about the politics of Brooklyn that the Chicago school joke did well, but you go to the Keynesian joke and nobody gets it. OK, let me just quickly explain - it's making fun of Keynesian economists who believe that government spending can help end recessions. And the idea is if you hire somebody to screw in a light bulb, then that person will get money and that person will spend that money and it will create more jobs. So by that logic, if the government has a light bulb that it needs changing, it should hire as many light bulb changers as possible.

KESTENBAUM: Robert, I think this is the moment in the club where I looked down after three jokes had basically bombed and I see this long paragraph. Fortunately, you are the one designated to read it.

SMITH: (Laughter) Yes.


SMITH: Two economists are walking down the road, as they do. They come across a pile of horse [expletive]. Yeah, horse [expletive] lying on the asphalt. And the first economist says, if you eat it, I will give you $20,000. And the second economist, he runs his optimization problem and he figures out, you know, he's better off eating it. So he does this. He eats the [expletive], collects the money. And they keep walking along the road, and they come across another pile of horse [expletive]. And the second economist, the one with the cash in his pocket, says now, hey, hey, if you eat this, I will give you back $20,000. And the first economist evaluates the proposal, says OK, I'll eat it. So he eats it, he gets the money. And they go on and that second economist starts thinking. He goes you know, we both have the same amount of money we had when we started, but we also both ate horse [expletive]. I don't see how this makes us better off. And the first economist says, well, yeah that's true, but you overlook the fact that the economy just grew by $40,000.


SMITH: Yeah, GDP, GDP, yes.

KESTENBAUM: Give it up for GDP.


KESTENBAUM: The crowd's coming around.

SMITH: I think they're starting to like it.

HARFORD: I have to say, I think that one actually is kind of funny as well as rather profound. So the idea here is that when economists try to measure the size of the economy, they measure market transactions. It's not hard to think of examples where clearly, welfare doesn't increase. So if there's an earthquake and a bunch of buildings fall down, well, that's not included in GDP. And then you have to pay to rebuild the building, so well, that construction activity is recorded in GDP. So there was an earthquake. The buildings fell down. We put the buildings back up. GDP increased. But we have the same buildings that we had to start with. It just goes to show that GDP is what it is. It's a measure of market transactions. It's not a measure of what makes us happy. And the horse manure joke - well, it makes that point pretty well.

KESTENBAUM: We were getting close to the end, and the next two jokes were mercifully short.


SMITH: Two economists walk past a Tesla showroom, a beautiful Tesla showroom, and one of them points to a shiny car in the window and says, I want that one. And the other economist says obviously not.

KESTENBAUM: Total silence.

HARFORD: There was tumbleweed blowing across the stage during that joke.

SMITH: You're going to make me explain it? One of the worst moments of my life (laughter) it was so - my stomach hurt so bad, and you're going to make me explain it?

KESTENBAUM: Yeah, you got to explain it.

SMITH: OK, this goes back to one of the fundamental things in economics, which is this - every time you buy something, you are showing a preference. You are saying that I want that item - let's say a sweater - I want that item more than I want the $40 in my pocket.

KESTENBAUM: That's why you're doing the exchange 'cause you'd rather have the sweater than the money in your pocket.

SMITH: Exactly. So clearly, the economist in the joke didn't really want the car because if the economist really wanted the car, he would've already bought it. Here, I'm going to play this one more time.


SMITH: And one of them points to a shiny car in the window and says, I want that one. And the other economist says obviously not.

KESTENBAUM: Again, it's a good joke. This next joke, I really liked.


KESTENBAUM: Two economists run into each other at a voting booth. One says to the other, I won't tell if you won't.

SMITH: Nice. Yeah, OK, somebody.

I was scanning the crowd, trying to find the one woman laughing - a game theorist.

KESTENBAUM: (Laughter). I think our friend was just talking to her that's why she was laughing. I like this joke because it's about this other assumption that economists often make, which is that people are basically rational. But voting - you know, when I go to vote, it feels totally irrational. I mean, the odds that my vote will make a difference are basically zero.

SMITH: So the idea that an utterly rational human being, like an economist, would go vote is kind of funny. But, of course, they do.

KESTENBAUM: OK, last joke. We did this joke onstage, but we're going to have Tim Harford do it because it's his joke.

HARFORD: Just to be clear, it's not my joke. I didn't make up the joke. It's just a joke that I really like about economists. There are two men in a hot air balloon, and the wind blows them across the countryside and they get completely lost. And they look down, they're drifting low over a field, and they see, standing in the road beneath them, a chap in a suit. So they call down, they say, excuse us, excuse us. Where are we? And the guy in the suit looks up and says, you're in a balloon. So one of the men in the balloon calls down and says, you're obviously an economist. And the economist calls up and says, you're right, I am an economist. How do you know? The guy in the hot air balloon calls down and says because your answer is precisely true and utterly useless.

SMITH: Oh, that's so much better than we did.


SMITH: And the guys in the balloon look down and say, wait, wait, wait, wait, are you an economist?

KESTENBAUM: Yeah, how'd you know?

SMITH: Because your answer is both precisely true and completely useless.


HARFORD: Well, I like that joke. I like that joke. And it kind of is funny, and it doesn't really need to be explained, which is why it's better than the other jokes.


MANDE: Give it up for PLANET MONEY. Actually, I listen to PLANET MONEY. PLANET MONEY's like, my fourth-favorite podcast. That was rough [expletive]. That was like watching Michael Jordan play baseball or whatever.


MANDE: I don't know. I don't know. Maybe you should stick to podcasting.


CHVRCHES: (Singing) I'm feeling capable of seeing the end. I'm feeling capable of saying it's over.

SMITH: If you have a better economics joke than the ones we told, please send them to us - planetmoney@npr.org. Although, I'll be honest with you, we're not going to do this again.

KESTENBAUM: Thanks to comedian Joe Mande at the end there for making us his fourth-favorite podcast, also to Greg Johnson, the emcee at Myrtle Comedy in Brooklyn for taking a chance on a couple dreamers, and to Jess Jiang and Nadia Wilson for producing today's show.


SMITH: Here's how we end our program - PLANET MONEY - thank you very much. I'm Robert Smith.

KESTENBAUM: I'm David Kestenbaum. Thanks for listening.


SMITH: So we're going to do next week, too, right?


CHVRCHES: (Singing) I'm feeling capable of seeing the end. I'm feeling capable of saying it's over, saying it's over, saying it's over, saying it's over, saying it's over.

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