Science can be funny

By Phil Plait | February 6, 2009 7:37 am

I like to think I’m something of a funny guy. I once won fourth place in a comedy contest in college, and the guy who won second place plagiarized Stephen Wright. So really I did pretty well. Don’t ask how many people competed.

Science is actually a pretty wealthy hunting ground for humor. The Big Bang Theory is still slaying me when I watch it, and sometimes they put in jokes you kinda have to be a scientist or a geek to get.

Brian Malow not only agrees with me (I assume) but he’s taken it a step farther: he’s a science-based stand-up comedian. He has (of course!) a video on YouTube.

Not too bad. The virus walking into a bar was pretty funny, and would’ve been even without the intro part. Now if he can just get regular people to understand why the spherical cow joke is so funny…

Tip o’ the funny bone to… my mom. Yes, my mom.


Comments (61)

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  1. You might be a nerd » Doctor Recommended | February 14, 2009

    Q: How many astronomers does it take to change a light bulb?

    A: Ten! One to change the bulb, and nine to argue how their own bulb
    gives better colour.


    Q: How many astronomers does it take to change a light bulb?

    A: 5:

    * one to measure it’s black body radiation at room temperature to verify it is totally dead.
    * one to lobby government for money to buy another one.
    * one to write the environmental impact statement.
    * one to record the steps taken during the change, for later publication in
    Scientific American.
    * one to shell out the money for a new one, because the government turned you down.

  3. Vernon Balbert

    I rather liked the bit about not going bald but the hair turning ultraviolet. You could become a walking tanning studio.


    Er… that should be its, not “it’s”. (Not my fault, I copied and pasted it verbatim from some joke web-site.)

  5. davidlpf

    Ivan3man, all lightbulbs would be red if astronomers were in charge of the lights. Plus there would be fewer of them.
    Also BA, very brave posting something about hair loss.

  6. kuhnigget

    “Astronomer stuck on the day shift.”

    Nyuck yuck.

  7. Tomas

    Q: Why did the chicken cross the road?
    A: Pierre de Fermat: I just don’t have room here to give the full explanation.

    Q: What is a polar bear?
    A: A rectangular bear after a coordinate transform.

    Biology is the only science in which multiplication means the same thing as division.

  8. Scott Belyea

    “…Er… that should be its, not “it’s”. (Not my fault, I copied and pasted it verbatim from some joke web-site.)”

    Naah … you can only weasel out of it that way if you’d given credit to the site from which you plagiarized it …

  9. I was browsing around some of his other videos and he’s pretty funny. I liked:

    “I don’t know how my parents ever formed a bond since they’re both negative.”


    “I’m not married, but I am in a relationship that will probably end in marriage.”

  10. IVAN3MAN

    Davidlpf: “[A]ll lightbulbs would be red if astronomers were in charge of the lights. Plus there would be fewer of them.”

    That’s because astronomers are not afraid of the dark. :-)

  11. Actually, one of the funniest things I read today was an error in an astronomy news article. I hope it gets fixed soon, but refers to a comet in our own solar system having a “Jupiter-sized atmosphere”. Personally I think that if comets can have Jupiter-sized atmospheres then we are all in a great deal of trouble, but I’m not sure what they meant to say.

  12. I too have immense difficulty telling the spherical cow joke. I get to the punchline and it’s always dead silence. I’m beginning to think the only people that laugh are people that have heard it before.

  13. kuhnigget

    re: spherical cow joke

    I have to confess, I did not “get” this joke in its intended meaning until reading the wikipedia article explaining it.

    I always thought the punch line was in the imperative form, as in, “Switch to a spherical cow if you want more milk production.”

    Guess that’s why nobody tells me jokes.

  14. davidlpf

    The problem about spherical cows is their gas is far from ideal.

  15. IVAN3MAN

    Scott Belyea: “Naah … you can only weasel out of it that way if you’d given credit to the site from which you plagiarized it…”

    It’s not plagiarized, it’s “fair use”! 😉

    As for giving credit, I would if I could, but I have ‘forgotten’ where I had got it from — I have so many jokes/gags collected on my hard-drive. 😉

  16. Peter Eldergill

    The sound quality was really bad so I stopped listening. I found it too irritating to listed to. I probably missed some really funny stuff


  17. Ken_g6

    My favorite joke about basic physics (because I thought of it):

    Static equilibrium is all torque and no action.”

    OK, maybe you had to be there.

  18. IVAN3MAN

    Back in February 13th, 2006, Cosmic Variance (now part of Discover) had an article on Bad Physics Jokes. (Click on the link.)

  19. Adrian Lopez

    Wikipedia cites the spherical cow joke as “Consider a spherical cow…”, but I think the joke’s punchline is clearer when it’s worded as “First, assume a spherical cow…”.

  20. Adrian Lopez

    Here’s another joke I like. It’s not a “science” joke, but I guess it could be called a skeptical joke. It goes: “Two solipsists walk into a bar, and one says to the other…”.

  21. Ty

    Futurama still has the best science and nerd humor of all time:

    Leela: “We’re at five atmospheres pressure!”

    Fry: “How many atmospheres can the ship handle?”

    Professor: “Well, it’s a space ship, so somewhere between zero and one.”


    Race Announcer: “The officials are checking the electron microscope… the winner is number 3, in a quantum finish.”

    Professor: “No fair! You changed the outcome by measuring it

  22. Adrian Lopez

    Yes. Futurama rocks.

  23. Kevin

    There were three entrants in that comedy contest, right?

  24. Voss

    I loved the line “I have hair – it’s just outside your visible spectrum.”

  25. Bjoern

    A comedian talking about physics isn’t so new here in Germany: for about 10 years now, we have Vince Ebert here, a physicist doing comedy. One of his shows was e. g. called “Physics is sexy”, and in it, he calculated the speed of ejaculation using Newton’s laws. And the audience liked it very much – although he used several formulas! If you are interested: several videos of his performance are up on YouTube – but you should understand German… 😉

  26. @ bjoern:

    Yeah, but could he calculate the speed of ejaculation using plasma physics? It does rule everything, you know.

  27. @The Science Pundit

    That reminds me of a Mitch Hedburg joke (paraphrasing):

    “I don’t have a girlfriend, but I do know a girl who would be mad if she heard me say that.”

  28. “I have hair – it’s just outside your visible spectrum.” I’m using that from now on. i will gladly pay royalties if we can reach an agreement.

  29. Kurt

    Two Hydrogen atoms walk into a bar, one turns to the other and says “Oh man, I think I lost my electron!” the other says “Really? Are you sure?” “Yeah… I’m positive!”


    Heard that one in class one time.

  30. Gary Ansorge

    I really loved that line,”FIRST develop interstellar travel, THEN trash the planet, not the other way ’round,,,” or, “I have hair. You just can’t see it because it’s beyond your visible spectrum,,,”.

    Funny man. Hope he gets to go national.

    GAry 7

  31. IAmMarauder

    I love science and math based jokes, just shows how much of a nerd and/or a geek I truly am 😛 One of my friends is actually teaching maths at a Uni, so at least I have someone who appreciates them (I will have to send him the polar bear one to him).

    One of my favourite math jokes has to be this one:

    Two explorers are wandering through the scrub, when they come across a clearing with a huge altar in the middle. On this alter is a circle made of stone, and surrounding it are a bunch of people, all praying to the circle.

    Carefully, the explorers creep closer trying to hear what is being chanted. They eventually make it out – “Nulllll… Nulllll… Nulllll…” repeated over and over.

    One explorer looks at the other in shock – “Is nothing sacred to these people?”

  32. @jtradke:

    Continuing on the “that reminds me of” idea…

    That reminds me of a recent XKCD comic (click on my name for linkage).

  33. Melissa Crain

    Hey Phil – I know this guy!!! He lives in San Francisco. he’s awesome!!

  34. @Kurt:

    I was about to post that one, you beat me to it. It’s hilarious!

    I read it in the game Fallout 3, from my maid robot.

  35. Jack Mitcham

    This guy’s actually really good. I’d like to see one unbroken set of his, though. It’s easy to take a few of his best jokes and splice them together.

  36. A spherical cow? That’s udderly ridiculous.

  37. Autumn

    Okay, what about anti-science humor:
    Why don’t depressed psychics ever agree about any thing?
    They can never find a happy medium.

  38. Autumn

    What do you call an Eastern healer who’s always on time?


    Is this blog on?

  39. Hey guys, I have one:

    Why did the GRB cross the Universe?

    No, seriously, guys… I wanna know…

  40. IVAN3MAN

    A Proton and an Electron are in a pub, drinking beer and having a chinwag. Then, a Neutron rolls in, sits at the bar and orders a beer. The Proton and the Electron watch the Neutron, attentively, as he drinks his beer and then leaves the bar without paying.

    “Hey, barman!”, exclaimed the Proton, “How come he did not have to pay for his beer, but we do?”

    “Ah!”, replied the barman, “He’s a Neutron. Therefore, no charge!

  41. Bein'Silly
  42. Bein'Silly

    Does that mean the electron has a negative charge?

    Ie the barman has to pay him? 😉

  43. Bein'Silly

    Qu. Why is TV called a medium?


    A: Because its neither rare nor well done! 😉

    (Hmmm .. not sure if that qualifies really but anyhow. )

    Good comedy Sf – Futurama – for sure! Red dwarf, also some good lines from ‘Firefly’ (Serenity) Jane the tough mercenary there had some good lines and straight man type roles. 😉

    Data from Star trek was often quite funny. 😉

    Quark & the Ferengi generally like Jar Jar in Star Wars were trying to funny but not! :-(

    Course humour is a subjective thing …

  44. Spectral Class Humour

    Spectral type humour

    1) The name of which variable star implies insanity?

    2) What is a boxers favourite spectral class

    3) What is the smelliest star type?

    4) What spectral type always looks bad in photos?

    5) What would be the favourite musical style of the inhabitants of Alpha Aurigae?



    … & again

    Okay :

    1) RU Lupi *

    2) K0 (Kay Oh as in knock out!)

    3) B0 as in B. O.

    4) B4 – the “after” photos always beat the “B4” ones .. 😉

    5) Acapella (A-capella! Sorry … 😉 ..)

    * Yes that _is_ a real star! 😉 RU Lupi (“are you loopy!?”) is a variable -an RW Aurigae or T-Tauri type nebular variable in Lupus. Probably a young star still in the process of accreting material it varies irregularly from 9th to 13th magnitude and is, probably, a G5 dwarf star located (again, most likely) around 400 light-years away.

  45. Spectral Class Humour

    … & (can I get away with this one?)

    What is the rudest star type?

    F0! 😉

  46. Spectral Class Humour

    There’s some funny star names out there too – I love the ones in Libra :

    Alpha Librae = Zubenelgenubi

    Beta Lib = Zubeneschmali

    Gamma Lib = Zubenelakrab

    Delta lib = Zublgubi

    I kid you not! 😉

  47. Cows may be spheres, but bulls are toruses.

  48. Bein'Silly

    Why did the mathematican blush?


    Because he saw the Moebius strip! 😉

  49. An assortment: I hope at least some of you enjoy these!

    The Historical Society regrets to inform its members that tonight’s Black Death Re-enactment is cancelled due to illness. 😉

    Its always darkest just before the dawn – so if you’re going to steal your neighbours newspaper that’s the time to do it!
    – Yoga Maharishi Fattibastard (Check source?!)

    Thought for the day : Does a bracket after an emoticon give it’s face a double chin??? 😉

    Thought for the day : If they ever make a TV show called ‘Parasite’, will they still call its compere a ‘host’?

    Thought for the day : Are garbos at our disposal?

    Thought for the day : Has the word ‘passe’ (en Francais) now become itself? (Or passed away?)

    Thought for the day : If the Moon really was made from green cheese then we’d really be grateful for the vacuum of space because, well, can you imagine just how bad a moon sized lump of really old, really mouldy cheese might smell?! 😉

    Thought for the day : Is it “better Late than never” if Late = deceased?

    “To the question, “how do I know I exist?” a professor famously
    replied, “And who’s asking?”
    – Philosopher and author, Antony Flew.


    Patrick Moore’s Personal Apocalpyse tale :

    “A few years ago I was walking along Charing Cross Road in Central London when I came across a man who was wearing sandwich boards. Normally I would’ve paid little attention to him and I assumed he must have been protesting about something quite mundane but in fact his message was much more dramatic :

    “Sinners Repent! The hour of doom is at hand!”

    I was tempted to question him but at that moment he stepped off the kerb and was smartly knocked down by a passing cyclist.

    Rising to his feet he drew a deep breath and unleashed a volley of wild invective.”
    – Page 1, introduction, “Countdown – Or how Nigh is the End?”, Patrick Moore, Pan Books, 1999.


    Would the congregation please note that the bowl at the back of the Church labelled ‘For the sick’ is for monetary donations only.’
    – Apparently a real church sign.

    We apologise for the error in the last edition in which we stated that Mr Fred Nicolme is a defective of the police force. This was a typographical error. We meant, of course, that Mr Nicolme is a detective in the police farce.
    – ‘Derby Community newspaper’ (Other info. unavailable.)

    Minimalist art: The less said the better.

    Apollodorus : “O Socrates how it grieves me to see you die so undeservedly.”
    Socrates : “My dear Apollodorus, would you rather see me die deservedly?”

    Is Armageddon the last word in warfare?

  50. Oops! I nearly forgot these ones from the other thread too :


    The Implications of Punctuation:

    A teacher and a school inspector were feuding over something and the teacher, being cheeky, wrote on the chalkboard the following line:
    The teacher said “the Inspector is a fool.”
    The inspector saw this, smiled and quickly changed the punctuation, quotes marks and commas to read:
    ‘The teacher’, said the Inspector,’ is a fool.’
    So commas misplaced, word order reversed
    Can make writer object
    Shout, swear & curse!


    Continuity: Subtitling and translation can also lead to weird mistakes. Han Solo says (twice in the special edition) that he dumped his cargo because “Even I get boarded sometimes”, and in Dutch cinema’s the subtitles read as if he said “Even I get bored sometimes”.

    I hope its not too much of a faux pas to post this on both these threads. Just in case people miss it on the other one.

  51. This ione is really more of a riddle than a funny & a pretty obscure one too but what the blazes here goes anyhow :

    Qu. When is a sword safe?


    A. When its Kappa Orionis! (a.k.a. ‘Saiph’ meaning sword in Arabic.)

    PS. Click on my name to visit stellar expert James Kaler’s page on this star.

    See also Saif al Jabbar (Eta Orionis) al

  52. Bein'Silly

    @ the BA :

    “I like to think I’m something of a funny guy.”

    Funny ha-ha or funny odd? 😉

    Bein’serious for a sec though :

    Who doesn’t? 😉 very, very few people think of themselves as being humourless – the lack of a sense of humour is a trait most frequently found in a fanatic or zealot.

    Natch what constitutes humour & “being funny” (comic funny that is) varies widely from culture to culture and even person to person. 😉

    Still most of us claim a GSOH to use the common acronymn and many even claim humour is what separates us from animals and makes us human – Heinlein made a case for this, I think, in his classic ‘Stranger in a Strange Land.’

    Which is all stating the obvious to some degree but whatever. Enough philosophy! Lets bring on the jokes! 😀

  53. Kathy

    I’m a freelance reporter and I cover news for Iowa State University. I’m happy to report that the wit of the professors on my beat is making its way into the local news. Here’s one about a physics professor who mixes metaphors and an economics professor who does stand-up comedy.

  54. I saw this joke on a bathroom wall in the University of Alberta:

    lim(GPA->0) BSc = BA

  55. And of course, by BA, it’s not Bad Astronomy, but Bachelor of Arts :)

  56. Torbjörn Larsson, OM

    Why did the GRB cross the Universe?

    But you can’t cross the Universe with GRB – the former is a volume, not a vector. 😉

  57. Why did the alien cross the galaxy?
    So he could probe Uranus!

  58. Jack Mitcham

    My physics professor was making the point that axis labels are totally arbitrary, and they don’t need to be positive x to the right, et cetera.

    He said “you can call this the positive Bill direction, and this the…” then he draws two concentric circles. “I don’t even know what this is.” He puts dots in it. “Here, you can call this the sprinkled donut direction. So, we developed the unit vector “Sprinkled donut hat” that day.

    Good times.

  59. Joker

    I’m trying to think of something that’s clean & safe to post here …


    Nup, sorry, its all dirty and unfit to post I’m afraid! 😉 :-(

  60. Hmm .. Even the Bad Astronomer himself likes the odd fart joke I noticed … 😉

    As galaxies pass through it, the pressure from this gas pushes on the gas inside the galaxy, sweeping it out (like driving with your windows open removes bad odors lingering in your car, possibly also due to gas).

    From the “Face of Beauty” (spiral galaxy image) thread.

    So I’m NOT the only one whose sense of humour tends toward the toilet variety here … 😉


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