Solve for x and let the laughs begin

June 15, 2004

BY ELIZABETH DAY LONDON -- Scientists have developed what they claim is the mathematical formula for the perfect joke. The equation they have formulated, x = (fl + no) / p, takes into account the length of the joke's build-up, the comedic value of the punch line and the groan-inducing qualities of puns.

The best and worst jokes are awarded values on a sliding scale from zero to 200, with 200 being the funniest.

A comedic value is determined by multiplying the funniness of the punch line (f) by the length of the buildup (l). This is added to the amount someone falls over (n) to the power of o -- the "ouch" factor of physical pain or social embarrassment. The total is then divided by the number of puns, which reduce laughter.

The "perfect" joke would therefore score 10 for punch line and length and contain a high number of pratfalls or social embarrassments, but no puns. So many traditional gags, such as the "doctor, doctor" or "knock, knock" jokes that have short buildups, no falling over and end in puns, score lowly.

For instance: "Doctor, doctor, I swallowed a bone. Are you choking? No, I really did" would be represented as x = (2 x 2 + 0) / 2 with a measly score of two points.

Shaggy-dog stories, however, with lengthy buildups, tend to score in the higher end of the spectrum.

The formula has been developed by neuroscientist Helen Pilcher and a comedian as part of an event at the Science Museum in London that aims to prove that science can be funny.

"The formula can't teach someone to be relaxed and funny on stage but it does help when you need a prepared gag to fall back on," Pilcher said.

Sunday Telegraph

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