Archive - Feb 2009

February 27th

Comedy Calculus

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Memo to my audience: IT'S TIME FOR MATH.

Few people realize that comedy, at its basic form, can be rendered as a series of equations. The most common mathematical representation of comedy is, of course, Einstein's classic Setup + Punchline = Funny, but in the years after Einstein turned his attention to physics, other great minds have established a complete Comedy Calculus with which we can attempt to solve any pressing comedy problems that lie before us. For example:

X + WATERMELONS = JOKE. Solve for X.

This puzzle was sent in by Dean "The Grossman" Grose, mayor of Los Alamitos, CA. Little Dean is in a bit of a pickle after sending a picture he thought was funny to his friend, Keyanus Rice. Unfortunately, Keyanus is African-American, and the picture Dean sent was of the White House, with watermelons growing on the front lawn.

Now, Mayor Grose claims that "we laugh at things and I didn't see this in the same light that she did... It wasn't sent to offend her personally - or anyone - from the standpoint of the African-American race.", and he's hoping that Comedy Algebra can help him. So let's give it a try.

Let's start with the Miller Method (1987 version) and divide both sides by Obscure Pop Culture Reference. Carry the two, discard the remainder, and you get..."the President sure is a Negro!". Hm. That's clearly not the answer Grose was looking for. OK, let's take a different tack. HTML is an inadequate language to show my work, but after applying the Hedberg Transform to eliminate any stoner non-sequitur coefficients, we're left with..."the President sure is a Negro!".

In the immortal words of Barbie, math is hard. OK, let's expand the equation a bit to include context. Los Alamitos is in Orange County, which means it's white, rich, and bland. Clearly we have to map this joke along the Leno Curve. Funny thing about the Leno Curve, it's not technically a curve at all, just a function of laughs over time that remains perfectly flat and at an imaginary value. So, we map to the Leno curve, and while I don't have room to show you a scan of my graph paper, it looks like, yep, "the President sure is a Negro!"

Sorry, Mayor. Math doesn't lie. There simply is no way to solve a joke consisting of a watermelon patch on the White House lawn that gives us this supposed different "light" you claim to have seen the picture in. Perhaps you should take your inquiry to the Intelligent Design folks over at the Discovery Institute. They're not nearly so fussy about their math, plus I hear they love a good negro joke.

Our second equation comes to us from, where else, Big Hollywood, where several of its more... intellectually-challenged denizens have used the following equation to prove liberal bias in late-night comedy.


For example, there's Tim Slagle, whose name actually solves the well-known Comedy Calculus function Lewis(x)Exclamation(y) for goofy voice values of -4 to 396. Slagle has been fearlessly monitoring late-night television for jokes about Obama, under the principle that since late night comedians spent the past eight years making jokes about Bush, then late night comedians spend eight years doing nothing but making fun of all presidents, and therefore they should spend two weeks making not only jokes about Obama, but jokes about Obama that Tim Slagle thinks are funny. Needless to say, Slagel's position has no mathematical basis whatsoever.

Slagel determined the complete lack of Obama jokes thusly. First, he counted up all the jokes about Nancy Pelosi saying America would lose 500 million jobs a month. There were none, therefore there were no jokes about Obama. He then counted up all the jokes about Obama's cabinet appointments and vice president, discarded the positive integer that resulted, and came to a running total of still no Obama jokes. Then he added up all the jokes about Obama's ears, Obama quitting smoking, and Obama's schedule, discards the positive integer that results, and comes to his final total of zero jokes about Obama in late night over the first two weeks of his presidency.

But honestly, can we blame Tim Slagel for getting things completely wrong? Yes, we can. And we should. But as a mitigating factor, some research has determined that what Slagle thought were Comedy Calculus formulas were accidentally sent to him by a friend of his who works for Citibank as an accountant in their mortgage-backed securities division. So no matter what numbers Slagle fed into it, it was always gonna come up zero.

Ironic? Yes. But it does explain how his update, two weeks later, could be titled "Still No Late Night Obama Humor" and end with the sentence "And that dear readers, could be the very first sighting of an actual Obama joke on Late Night TV." Although in the interests of full disclosure, I must also point out that every time I plug Slagle's results into actual Comedy Calculus, all I get for an answer is "Tim Slagle is the least funny son-of-a-bitch on the planet". Let's just agree to teach the controversy.