Mathematical Humour, If you have to explain it...

Updated: Mar 7, 2020

I started getting interested in Mathematical humour, late last year while looking blankly at Dr Bagdasar, our calculus lecturer, in response to his complex jokes requiring the equivalent of three powerpoint slides ahead of the punchline. Later during revision I would suddenly collapse with laughter, followed by a long ahhh.. ending with a deep and renewed appreciation of calculus. Mathematical humour, I thought, is the gift that keeps on giving.

Q: Why do they never serve beer at a maths party? A: Because you can't drink and derive...

So I started looking up jokes online. It turns out that Mathematicians, far from being dry and unapproachable, as most would have us believe, are in fact quite funny. Jokes abound on dedicated pages and you can even book tickets to see comedians, such as Matt Parker, devoted to this strange juxtaposition of humour and formula. Mathematical Humour even has its own Wikipedia page. That fact alone I found quite funny, we hadn't even got to the jokes yet.

Matt Parker, Stand Up Maths

According to the Wikipedia page Mathematical Humour can be grouped [and far from funny I begin to experience anxiety as I worry whether this is really a group, a set or a list ed.] into the following: Pun-based jokes, Jokes with numerical bases, Imaginary numbers, Stereotypes of Mathematicians, Non-mathematicians maths, Mock mathematics and an un-categorised 'Doughnut and Coffee Mug typology' joke. An un-categorised mathematical joke seemed, to me, simultaneously, both quite reasonable and utterly hilarious. Maybe it was just a temporary relief from my 'group, list, set' anxiety.

The joke roughly boils down to why our lecturer Dr Korpelainen, a Topology expert, can't tell the difference between a cup of coffee and a doughnut. Clue: Its all to do with Topological Isomorphism, which sounds like some terrible affliction. Anja Randecker, below, however, does a great job explaining the Joke in 2 minutes! While blissfully short as a Maths Tutorial, is a thoroughbred investment for a Joke.

Anja Randecker, University of Toronto

I think its this scale of intellectual investment required for some maths jokes which is itself funny allowing us to indulge a sort of self-deprecating, self awareness that maths isn't that easy. But here at least I will have the last laugh at the expense of my professors with my favourite maths joke of all time, Gary Larson's pinned note, below. For me, it is the perfect maths joke, in that it doesn't require a single word.

The Far Side by Gary Larson (c) Universal Press Syndicate

I think that just about sums it up. Boom boom! I'm here all week 🧐

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