humor, jokes, comedian


John Allen Paulos at minimum gave the Numeracy movement a name through his book Innumeracy: Mathematical Illiteracy and Its Consequences. What may not be so obvious was Paulos’ strong interest in the relationship between mathematics and mathematicians on the one hand and humor and stand-up-comedian joke structures on the other. Innumeracy itself could be seen as a typically mathematical Gotcha joke on American culture generally. In this perspective, a Minnesotan acculturated to Minnesota-Nice Humor of Self-Immolation Proclivities (SImP) looks at the more raw-boned, take-no-prisoners humor style Paulos outlined in Mathematics and Humor and implemented in Innumeracy.

Despite the difference in humor styles, there is much to applaud in Paulos’ analysis of the relationship between certain types of humor and professional interests of mathematicians in Mathematics and Humor. Much humor relies on the sense of incongruity which Paulos’ claims to be central to all humor and key to mathematical reductio ad absurdum. Mathematics is rightfully famous for a sense of combinatorial playfulness in its most elegant proofs, as humor often relies on clashing combinations of word play. And a great range of mathematical lore is best understood within a concept of a sudden drop from one sense of certainty to another (essentially a Gotcha on the audience). Innumeracy repeatedly exemplifies Gotchas on the great unwashed and unmathematical majority.

Extensive empirical evidence over the last quarter century allows us to synthesize these Paulos observations into the idea that inculcated mathematical humor has strong propensities to complex Intellectual, Advocate, and Crusader humor forms. However, the Paulos humors do not include the Sympathetic Pain humor form, the inclusion of which may increase teaching effectiveness.



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