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Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Can Jerry Seinfeld crack P vs NP ?

The following is a quote from Comedian Jerry Seinfeld. The source is Seinfeld Universe: The Entire Domain by Greg Gattuso (Publisher of Nothing: The Newsletter for Seinfeld Fans, page 96.
I was great at Geometry. If I wanted to train someone as a comedian, I would make them do lots of proofs. That's what comedy is: a kind of bogus proof. You set up a fallacious premise and then prove it with rigorous logic. It just makes people laugh. You'll find that most of my stuff is based on that system ... You must think rationally on a completely absurd plane.
I doubt that many comedians have seen lots of proofs though they may have an intuitive sense of logic for their routines. And not all comedians use this style.

I know of one theoretical computer scientist who is a comedy writer. Jeff Westbrook got his PhD in 1989 with Robert Tarjan on Algorithms and Data Structures for Dynamic Graph Algorithms. He was faculty at Yale, and then a researcher at AT+T before working on the TV shows Futurama and The Simpsons. I actually met him in 1989- he didn't seem that funny at the time.

Are there other theorists or mathematicians that are also professional comedians or comedy writers? I doubt there are many. If you define theorist or mathematician as having a PhD then I assume its very very few. If you defining it as majored in math or CS there would probably be some.

11 comments:

  1. One immediately thinks of Lewis Carroll, both as an example to a mathematician+humorist, and as a living example of what Seinfeld suggests as a "technique" of doing humor.

    The surrealists were good at this kind of thing.

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  2. Noam Slonim is a computational biologist/machine learnist who wrote stuff for israeli sitcoms,
    incl. the great 'hahamishia hakamerit'

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  3. Here's a list of the mathematical background of just writers of The Simpsons. Lots of math geeks there!

    http://www.mathsci.appstate.edu/~sjg/simpsonsmath/degrees.html

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  4. David X. Cohen, co-creator of Futurama, was getting his Ph.D. in theoretical CS at Berkeley, but left around his their year with a Masters to go write for the Simpsons. There's a Harvard Lampoon connection that has led a number of "math geeks" to the Simpsons and other comedy shows (animated and otherwise).

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  5. Tom Lehrer should qualify as a mathematician-humorist.

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  6. John Rogers is a stand-up comedian, TV/film screenwriter and physics graduate.

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  7. And let's not forget the greatest comic talent of all, and he does in fact perform professionally...

    Scott Aaronson.

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  8. On the physics side of things, Albert Einstein and Richard Feynman have always been known for their sense of humor, especially through some notable quotes attributed to them, although they were never formally comedians.

    Also for the gamers out there, it's actually interesting to note that among the two original creators of the internet show pure pwnage, one was a former physics phd student and the other was an undergraduate studying math, cs, and physics.

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  9. I've met (and drank) with a few of the Simpson's writers. One looks and acts like Crusty the Clown. I can't remember his name, but the margaritas were good. The Mercedes SLR was nice too. Something to think about if you don't get tenure....

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  10. The idea that humor and scientific creativity are related was raised by Arthur Koestler in his 1964 book "The Act of Creation". But more important - when I finish my phd., how do I become a Simpson's writer?

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  11. I've got a PhD in math and I do improv comedy (and I've dabbled in sketch). So add me to your short list.

    I actually just had a brief blog post on math and comedy at Math for Love.

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