Saturday, September 24, 2016

The More You Know – Erich

One of the best things about travel is getting to have new knowledge. Sometimes it is just memories of different experiences. Sometimes it is a deeper understanding of how people are alike and different around the world. And sometimes it is just that jokes get funnier.

Yes, sometimes knowing more means laughing more. Some jokes are just better if you are in the know. I will tell you a story about this, my ultimate example of what I mean. Plus, it includes the shortest joke in the world.

When I was a student and instructor at the Courant Institute for Mathematical Sciences (which was the Math Department and Graduate School at New York University), I learned, though I don't remember where I learned it, the shortest joke in the world.

One night we hosting at a Passover Seder with a lot of our friends in attendance. This included some of my fellow colleagues from the Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and several others who were not from that math world. And I told the shortest joke in the world.

(Is the suspense building it up properly? I hope so, because suspense is really all I have to offer with this particular joke for the majority of my readers.)

I said, “I'm going to tell you the shortest joke in the world.” Everyone turned to hear with bated breath or other expression of tense anticipation.

I continued, “Let epsilon be less than zero.”

(In case you are waiting for more, don't. That's it. That is the shortest joke in the world. It's short, right?)

At this juncture, all of my Courant friends lost it. They were laughing so hard, some of them had tears coming out of their eyes. Meanwhile, Alrica and our friends who were not mathematicians were looking at me like I was a two headed idiot in which one head had suffered brain death and the other head was jealous at the superiority of its compatriot.

Okay, so that was my point. The humor in the joke depends entirely on the knowledge of a specific slice of humanity, in this case mathematical proofs. The greater your knowledge of that slice, the funnier the joke is. The less your knowledge of that slice, the more inane the joke-teller seems. (This, by the way, is a fine example of a positive correlation.)

Yesterday Alrica showed me a comic strip. I post it here. It is a comic from Itchy Feet at
Had I seen this comic a year ago I would have said, “Oh yeah, that's cute.” I would have understood what it meant at an intellectual level. But it would not have been funny. But now, after seeing so many signs in various Asian languages, as well as many products at the grocery store labeled in all kinds of scripts, I laughed.

So knowing more really can mean laughing more. As I am also a writer of comedy scripts, I hope it also means making other people laugh more. Though if all my jokes are as inaccessible as the shortest joke in the world, I'm not too likely to succeed.

No matter how much I know.

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