Central Snark

I Feel Funny by mattresspolice
Tuesday, 17 April 2007, 8:52am
Filed under: funny..., Pop! goes the Diesel

DieselWhich is to say, I’m not feeling very funny. Maybe my sarcastic “advice” on how to be funny has come back to bite me on my non-Easter-egg-hiding ass. Maybe I’ve been thinking too much lately about what it means to be funny. Maybe I’ve forgotten how to be funny. Maybe there’s a limit to the number of times you can start a sentence with “maybe” and still hold people’s attention.

Among the three hundred other unfinished projects I’ve got going, I’m working on a master’s degree in the humanities. The “humanities,” in case you’re wondering, means basically all the fun kinds of classes you took in college: History, literature, philosophy, that sort of thing. Pretty soon I have to come up with a topic for a thesis. I’ve been thinking I would write it on the philosophy and history of humor. Hence my obsession with analyzing what is funny. And what isn’t.

Entirely unrelated to this, I’ve been reading this book about artificial intelligence. Well, it’s about music, mathematics, computers and self-referential systems… you probably wouldn’t understand. Mostly because I don’t understand half of it myself, so there’s no way I could explain it to you. Anyway, after 500 pages the author finally gets to the question of what it means to be “intelligent.” Is a computer that can perform complex mathematical functions intelligent? What about a computer than can beat a grand master in chess? What about a computer that can recognize music but insists on listening to the same f—ing John Mayer song over and over? Etc., etc.

My feeling is that to be intelligent, one has to have a sense of humor. There are a lot of different kinds of intelligence, and a really funny person isn’t necessarily highly intelligent or vice versa. But someone — or something — that has no sense of humor whatsoever can’t, in my opinion, be considered intelligent. I can’t really justify this opinion, except to say that true intelligence requires making intuitive connections between seemingly dissimilar things — which is also the core of the concept of humor. Einstein figured out that E = MC^2 (Energy = Mass times the Speed of Light squared) because he somehow made a connection between two things — energy and matter — that everybody had always assumed were two completely different things. Now consider the question of why the chicken crossed the road. The answer is, of course, to get to the other side. Now we must ask, “Why is that funny?”

Well, ok, it’s not. But when you heard it for the first time when you were six, it was pretty damn hilarious. Because the fact is, you knew all along that he crossed the road to get to the other side. The answer to the question is completely wrong, and yet it makes total sense. The only problem is, I have no idea what this has to do with E = MC^2. Great, now I’ve lost my sense of humor and I’m stupid.

Anyway, I have decided that artificial intelligence research should be shifted toward creating a computer that can get a joke. Not that there’s any need for such a machine — although I’m sure the estate of Johnny Hart would appreciate it — but if we’re going to try to create intelligent machines, that would be a good place to start. So the question is, what joke would you use to test it? I’m thinking that it should be something short and simple. You can’t start a machine off on Studio 60 style humor. After all, that’s what turned the Terminators against us, right?

So I’ve been trying to think of the simplest possible joke. The absolute lowest common denominator of humor, if you will. A joke that even a self-cleaning oven might be able to get. The best I’ve been able to come up with is this:

Q: What is 1 + 1?
A: 11.

Well, I know, it’s not very funny. But it killed my Commodore VIC-20.

~ Unfunny Diesel

You can find way funnier stuff than this at humor-blogs.com. And sometimes even at mattresspolice.com.


22 Comments so far
Leave a comment

a self-cleaning oven, perhaps, but it took me a second to get that joke. now that i do i have to say, it didn’t byte.

as for intelligence vs humor? the need for intelligence in order to appreciate humor? there are days i pride myself in being more intelligent that the average, er, dog owner — and yet i still have trouble laughing at certain jokes in The New Yorker. and, for the life of me, i just don’t think The Family Guy is funny… at all. two veins of comedy from two entirely different ends of the humor spectrum. what’s that say about me? uh… one man’s funny bone is another man’s Achilles’ heel. (what did i just say? oy. apparently today i’m not even smart as my dog. d’oh!)

oh yeah — if it helps, Steve Martin got his degree in Philosophy, before he pursued a career in comedy. 🙂 xox

Comment by One Hot Puppy

You are on to something here, computers need to be funny. Think about it, when we have personal robots waiting on us hand and foot we are going to want to have regular conversations with them right? Do you think the Jetsons had un-funny robots? Don’t think so!

Comment by teetotaled

also thinkin’ i could use the motto currently displayed in your header, only mine would read:

“I laugh at The Family Guy, because I see others laughing and I don’t want them to think I don’t get it, even tho’ I don’t. (over-the-top-obvious jokes? what’s funny about that?)”


Comment by snuppy

PS: Diesel, promise me you’ll title your dissertation “Oh, The Humanities!” if you ever do decide to get that degree. 😉 xox

Comment by snuppy

Isn’t humor a social adaptation? Like primate grooming? Not to pick nits…

Comment by al

I think there is a relation between intelligence and humor. If when you say humor you mean wit! To be witty you have to be intelligent, but you can be intelligent without being witty at the same time.

I have met many a very intellectual human-those with glasses, pale skin and suede patches on the elbows of their jackets. Nothing humorous about them!

Comment by Penguin

I mean to say, will intelligent computers naturally be funny when interacting with us? Or only with each other? And, if the latter, when we listen in, will we “get it”?

For that matter, will they think we’re funny?


To make sure their new agents were tough and cold enough, the CIA devised an ingenious new interviewing method.

The first candidate to be interviewed, a man, was handed a gun and told: “Your wife is seated in a chair in the next room. Take this gun, go in there, and shoot her.”

The man thought about it for a second, handed the gun to the interviewer, and said “no way!” and ran out.

The second candidate, also a man, took the gun, went into the room and closed the door, but came out a few seconds later and said “Sorry. I tried, but I just can’t do it.” as he gave back the gun and left.

The third candidate, a woman, took the gun and went into the room where her husband was seated in a chair. The interviewer heard three gunshots, followed by loud banging noises and muffled screams. He rushed in to find the woman standing over her dead husband. “The gun you gave me was loaded with blanks,” she said, “so I had to beat him to death with this chair.”

Will computers exchange Karnak jokes? If they do, will we laugh?


A: “Lassie, Rin Tin Tin, and the Macintosh Pro Personal Workstation.”

Q: Name two movie stars and a dog.

Comment by al

The good and bad news is that I think I’m getting a cold, which explains why my head is a bit fuzzy. I was sitting at my computer last night struggling over that Terminator joke and almost gave up. Now at least I’m pretty sure my dullness is a temporary condition.

Snuppy – I actually thought Family Guy was rather stupid the first several times I watched it, but now I think it’s pretty funny. I have a book of humor from the New Yorker and while some of it is hysterical, I swear that the average Family Guy episode is funnier than half of it.

Oh, and I’m seriously tempted to use your “Oh, the Humanities” title.

Teetotaled – I think the robots in the Jetsons were the futuristic version of black people.

Penguin – Yes, wit is a better word. See how dumb I am today?

Al – I think humor is more of a coping mechanism for self-awareness than a social adaptation. Which is to say, all forms of humor are going to have a lot in common. So my joke about 1 + 1 isn’t exactly funny, but it’s my attempt to find the lowest common humor denominator. See, it’s funny because I’m setting you up to think that the answer requires arithmetic computation, but in fact it’s simply a matter of string concatenation! Computers love that shit.

Anyway, if you can imagine trying to program a computer to “get” your CIA joke, you get an idea of how far our computers are from achieving even Tony Danza’s level of intelligence. (I actually love that CIA joke, btw….)

Comment by Diesel

I’m reminded of the comedy expert in Borat…NOT!

Comment by furiousball

My PC has a great sense of humor. I know it’s laughing at me every time I turn it on and expect it to work. My MAC just stands in the background shaking its virtual head in disgust.

Comment by Random Ponderings

OK, here is my test joke for computers.
Anyone who recognizes my source will earn incredible cool points.

“Gramma thinks she’s a chicken.”
“Well, take her to therapy.”
“We would but we need the eggs.”

Comment by logo™

Logo, Allen S. Konigsberg?

“But We Need the Eggs: The Magic of Woody Allen”

Comment by al

Logo, how about:

– The food here is terrible!
– Yes, and such small portions!

Comment by Diesel

who was the joker that invented blogging… they’ve got a lot to answer to!!!

Computer + humour = Data… it’s all to do with microchips, mon capitan

Comment by ann


– Waiter! There’s a fly in my soup!
– Don’t worry – no extra charge!

Comment by Lampsha


“Waiter, what’s this fly doing in my soup?”
“The backstroke?”

hahahahaha. yes… i do laugh at stupid jokes. which explains, i suppose, why i’m lauging my ass off after reading these comments. 🙂 xox

Comment by snuppy

My favorite stupid joke is:

A skeleton walks into a bar and says, “give me a beer and a mop.”

Comment by Jeff

Just how will we know the computer is laughing because it found a joke funny or somebody programmed it to laugh…knock knock jokes, impossible not to groan, that’s when we’ll know that computers have a sense of humor.

Comment by katcampbell

The other day my dad and I were driving by a cemetary.
He said, “How many people do you think are dead in that cemetary?”
I said “I don’t know, how many do you think?”
“All of them.”

(Do you know how many times he’s told me that joke?)

Comment by Random Ponderings

Interesting. The ability to get, and tell, a joke is said to be a sure sign of mastery of a foreign language. But I look through the four laws of robotics in vain for a reference to a requirement to laugh at human humor. Hmm …

Comment by oceallaigh

Of course, the more intelligent (or at least, the more educated) you get, the more things you find funny, because you have a broader base of absurd connections.
I think the 1+1 joke is probably the best sort to start with. It’s sort of the mathematical equivalent of a pun. Then we can move on to lightbulb jokes, of which my favorite is:
Q: How many boring people does it take to screw in a lightbulb?
A: Just one.

Comment by Allen's Brain

[…] Central Snark We came, we saw, we snarked. « Goodbye Kitty Get Your Nickel Back! April 24th, 2007 I’m pretty sure I just coughed up my ovaries, but other than that I’m feeling pretty good. Mentally at least I’m doing much better than I did when I coughed up last week’s almost incoherent post. […]

Pingback by Get Your Nickel Back! « Central Snark

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: