The Guardian reports that scientists expressed the prefect joke mathematically.
The mathematical equation for the perfect joke was revealed by scientists in London yesterday. The calculation is c=(m nO)/p.
In the formula, c is the funniness of the joke; m is the “comic moment” (arrived at by multiplying the punchline’s funniness rating by the length of the joke’s buildup); nO is the number of times the subject undergoes a pratfall, multiplied by the “ouch factor” – the social and physical pain of the indignity involved. The total is divided by the number of puns, p.
The formula was worked out by Helen Pilcher and Timandra Harkness – both scientists and stand-up comedians – who make up the Comedy Research Project, which they run in collaboration with the Science Museum’s Dana Centre in London.
Puns are seen as dissipating the power of a joke because they tend to encourage groans rather than laughter.For some reason I am reminded of the story of the new prisoner in the penitentiary, in with a bunch of old timers. He notices an odd ritual going on among the inmates. During dinner and other times, some one will suddenly look around at the other guys and say, “. . #37”, or some other number, apparently at random. The other guys will all grin, or sometimes laugh. He asks somebody what is going on. “Well, we’ve all been here so long, that we’ve all heard everybody’s jokes many times. So we’ve just assigned numbers to each of them. Now we just say the number instead of bothering with the whole joke.” The new guy decides to give it a try. At dinner he looks around and says, “. . #54!” But no one smiles or laughs. He asks the fellow next to him, “What’s wrong? Did I pick a bad joke?” The other guy shakes his head and says, “Well, don’t take it wrong, but some folks just can’t tell a joke.”