Monthly Archives: March 2011

Theory of Comedy Relativity

Most theories in theoretical physics began with the observation or imagining of something simple. Newton saw an apple falling, Einstein daydreamed about a flashlight. Einstein wondered what would happen if he were riding on a beam of light and turned on a flashlight. Would the light bend?

Great comedians also daydream about some of the same simple things. Steven Wright said, “When I was a kid, I went to my grandfather’s funeral and I was thinking about the batteries in my flashlight. My grandfather was lying in a casket, so I told my aunt that maybe he was in the wrong way.

This is my simple observation…

Have you ever noticed that the funniness of a joke is always relative to the speed at which it is told?


In comedy, timing is everything. There is a certain point when a joke delivery is just too slow or fast to make the audience laugh. Let’s call those limits the “relative speed of funny”. Let’s look at humor that is delivered on the slower side. Obviously some jokes, when told at slower speeds, are funnier than others, so each joke has a unique threshold that, when passed, diminishes the measurable funniness of that joke to a level of zero. Just imagine you are with a friend and they say,

“Knock. Knock.”

You reply, “Who’s there?”

Five minutes later your friend says, “Amos.”

You’re like, “What?” Your friend is silent. You repeat, “What about Amos? Dude, what are you talking about? Are you ok?” After some time, you put it together. “Amos who?” Days pass and your friend stares blankly.

Finally, while the nurse is changing the IV on your apparently catatonic friend, he spouts, “A-mosquito bit me.”

You glance around the room. His mother is sobbing.  His bleary-eyed wife is signing papers and her head snaps up in shock. The room is silent. You’re friend looks at all of them and says, “Get it?”

Your friend has simply told that joke too slowly. No one finds it funny at that speed. There are natural limits on comic timing.

Nature also has a “speed limit” of 186,000 feet per second, we call that “the speed of light”. Nature will start slowing time down as you approach this speed limit in order to keep you from traveling faster than light.

If I faced you and walked backwards away from you, at a rate just a tad slower than the speed of light, we would both notice each other getting smaller and quieter as I walked away, but if we had super telescopic vision and hearing, we could continue to observe one another. As I approached the speed of light, from your point of view, I would appear as though I were moving and talking slower and slower. From my point of observation, your motions and words would appear and sound to me as though they were speeding up. Time would seem to be passing more quickly at your relative position than it passed at my own. What seemed like a few moments to me, could seem like three long years to you. This may seem far-fetched, but it has been proven repeatedly in real experiments.

The Theory:

If I tell you a joke while walking backwards away from you at just a hair slower than 186,000 feet per second, to me you would appear to get smaller and smaller while never getting my joke. To you, I would appear to be telling the world’s slowest joke, which would not really ever turn out to be particularly funny, because the timing would be off. It would just be delivered too slowly.

If I were able to do a test where I told you that joke multiple times, with exactly the same delivery each time, but at varying speeds of travel, starting slow and then working my way up in speed by one foot per second each time I told it, and you were able to forget each successive telling, so that it would be fresh each time, eventually there would be a round at which the joke went from funny to unfunny. This way, we could determine at the exact speed at which the joke would cease to be entertaining.

That speed is the relative funniness of that joke. (Rf) It is constant when the joke is always told in the exact same way to the same listener. For the purposes of our models, the listener is of a median level of fanship. They know someone who owns the comedian’s album, and think they saw the performer on cable, but are actually thinking of Ray Romano, whom they found amiable and amusing.

Comedy timing being the sensitive beast that it is, for most jokes, the speed at which they became unfunny would be somewhere between 50,000 and  80,000 feet per second. At that range of speeds, their delivery would tend to be just slow enough to become weird and to be unfunny. BUT, if we invented a joke that was so funny that even when we told it over a long period of time, people would laugh at it anyway, that joke would essentially allow the comedian to perceive that his joke was so extremely witty that he traveled into the future. It would also cause the audience member to perceive that the comedian had told a joke that was so uproarious that the riotous nature of it caused him to stop aging completely during the joke telling process.

This brings forward the problem of how do you make a joke so hilarious that, even when told at unprecedentedly slow rate of one jest spread over three years, it is still funny. This is where more relativity must come into play.

Theoretical Method#1 “Hypermouth”

The joke would need to be long enough to take three years to tell at normal speed and yet still be funny. It could then be told by the comedian at an accelerated rate, which to him would seem like only a few moments of hyperfast joke telling and to the audience it would appear as though the comedian just told an epically long, three-year-joke at normal speaking speed and it was really funny on day 1,095. I think this is an impossibility in both physics and comedy, since the joke would likely “jump the shark” after the third month of the audience listening to it and the comedian couldn’t possibly tell a joke with three years’ worth of words at such high speeds without his lips bursting into flames. Even in the vacuum of space the lip molecules would rub against one another and cause massive heat from that friction. His saliva would boil and his tongue would superheat his teeth into molten enamel. No one likes seeing that. I saw it once at an open mic and only the guy’s friends laughed.

Theoretical Method #2 – “Slowjoke”

More effectively, the comedian could learn to tell a shorter joke, but tell it sooooo slooooowly, that to him, it would seem to take three years, but when the audience heard it, it would appear to be at told a normal rate of speech, last only a few moments before completion and be appreciably farcical. “Ha! A mosquito.” [snort]


I guess what I’m saying is, learning not to rush through good comedy and enjoying the journey is ultimately the secret to both time travel and success in show business. This is proven by both my experience performing and theoretical physics, so I defy anyone to challenge it. If you don’t believe me, try it.


Please like my comedy page on Facebook and support my pursuits in the ha-ha-hospitality industry.