Long before capital "A" Academia became a professional network of accredited scholars and fund-grubbing institutions, intellectual discourse consisted of nearly as much humor—bad puns, scatology, innuendo, biting caricature—as deep philosophical dialogue and sparkling erudition. So-called "wits" gathered in coffee houses to trade barbs and bon mots and to circulate their favorite literary satires from writers like Jonathan Swift, Alexander Pope, and John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester, whose poetic output was often equal parts raunchy prosody and thoughtful critical inquiry.
In our digital times, intellectual humor bubbles around the margins of high culture, as much as in the oblique cartoons of The New Yorker as in forums like Reddit, where jokes can be crude, hateful, and borderline psychotic, or genuinely witty and unique. Slate recently picked up on a Reddit thread that asked users “what’s the most intellectual joke you know?” The authors of the Slate piece compiled several contenders (and inanely explained each joke with “why it’s funny” addenda—good humor shouldn't require didactic commentary).
Below, find a sampling of some of the Reddit submissions. In the comments section, please feel free to submit your own “intellectual jokes” after perusing Reddit to make sure someone hasn’t beat you to the punchline.
- From user Watch_Closely: “It’s hard to explain puns to kleptomaniacs because they always take things literally.”
- From user Arcadian 5656: “A biologist, a chemist, and a statistician are out hunting. The biologist shoots at a deer and misses 5ft to the left, the chemist takes a shot and misses 5ft to the right, and the statistician yells, ‘We got ‘im!’ ”
- From user shannman: “Who does Polyphemus hate more than Odysseus? Nobody!”
And below, two of the Redditors’ favorites:
- From user phattmatt: “Jean-Paul Sartre is sitting at a French cafe, revising his draft of Being and Nothingness. He says to the waitress, "I'd like a cup of coffee, please, with no cream." The waitress replies, "I'm sorry, Monsieur, but we're out of cream. How about with no milk?”
- From user snakesanddoves: “An Irishman goes to a building site for his first day of work, and a couple of Englishmen think, ‘Ah, we'll have some fun with him!’ So they walk up and say, ‘Hey, Paddy, as you're new here make sure you know a joist from a girder...’ ‘Ah, sure, I knows’ says Paddy, ‘twas Joyce wrote Ulysses and Goethe wrote Faust.’”
Some clever humor above, I'd say (and in the animated New Yorker cartoon at the top of the post). So, you think you can do better? Let's hear your jokes in the comments.