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.
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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him at @jdmagness
Similar to the one mentioned by Arcadian 5656 in the feature:
A chemist, a physicist and a mathematician are stranded on an island with only a can of beans and no equipment. The physicist manages to start a fire and tries heating the can, using thermal expansion to crack it open, but it doesn’t work. The chemist places the can in the surf washing ashore, reasoning that chemical erosion will open the can, but that doesn’t work either.
The mathematician assumes he has a can opener, and eats the beans.
“WTF is a palindrome”
“no it’s not”
Q: What does the “B” in Benoit B. Mandelbrot stand for?
A: Benoit B. Mandelbrot.
The best piece of advice that Albert Einstein ever gave me was: “Never cat-sit for Erwin Schrödinger”
Q: What to you get when you cross a mountain climber with a mosquito?
A: Trick question! You can’t cross a scalar with a vector.
What “do” you get… rrr.
Rene Descartes is attending a soiree at the Palais Versailles. A sommalier approaches and asks, “Monsieur Descartes, would you like a glass of wine?” Descartes pauses and answers, “I think not.” And poof!–he disappears.
A Lutheran man dies and approaches the Pearly Gates, where he’s greeted by St. Peter. St. Peter reviews his life and says he looks like a good candidate for heaven. “But,” says St. Peter, “I have one question: what church did you attend?” “Lutheran,” the man replies. “I’m sorry–go to hell!”
The devil offers the man a tour of hell, and on the tour he notices that a greatly disproportionate number of inhabitants are Lutherans. Finally, the man and the devil reach the lowest, farthest, deepest, dankest, darkest part of hell, and there the man sees Martin Luther himself sitting in a corner. Martin Luther lifts his sad eyes and says woefully to the man, “I’m sorry. It turned out to be works after all.”
Heisenberg went for a drive and got stopped by a traffic cop. The cop asked, “Do you know how fast you were going?” Heisenberg replied, “No, but I know exactly where I am.”
I used to be a structural linguist, but now I’m not Saussure.
Leonard Bernstein is conducting a rehearsal of the final movement from Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. He gives the chorus a break to work with the strings for a while. The basses use the opportunity to go to the bar next door, where they proceed to get quite inebriated. When they return no one can walk straight–two pass out on the risers and one hapless singer stumbles into Bernstein’s music stand, sending pages of sheet music flying and prompting LB to tie the music down onto the stand to prevent further mishaps.
Later, as he recounted the worst rehearsal of his career: “There I was, at the bottom of the Ninth, with two out, the basses loaded, and the score tied.”
masochist walks up to a sadist in a bar, says to the sadist “hurt me”. sadist says “no”.
What do you get when you combine a joke with a rhetorical question?
There are 10 types of people in the world, those that understand binary and those that don’t.
Two behaviorists are laying in bed, they have just made love. The man says, “It was good for you… was it good for me?”
‘A man walks into a zoo. There was only one dog. It was a shit zoo.’
Guy from the midwest never ate fresh seafood from the ocean. He flies into Logan Airport in Boston gets in a cab, and says: “I’m new in town and I’d like to get scrod.”
Taxi driver looks at him blankly.
Midwest guy says “Don’t know know what I’m talking about?”
Driver says “I do, I just never heard the pluperfect subjunctive”
What did the indigenous person say to the postmodern anthropologist?
“Can we talk about me for a change?”
Q. What does the H in Jesus H. Christ stand for?
A linguistics professor gives a lecture about double negatives, explaining that in English it indicates a positive, but in some cultures and other languages, it can still mean a negative. He says, however, that nowhere does a double positive ever mean a negative.
A rival professor sitting in the back says, “Yeah, yeah….”
Why did the chicken cross the Mobius Strip ?
To get to the same side …
I heard this joke 33 years ago. I thought it was hilarious, but then again I was stoned at the time. It was described to me as a ‘Zen’ joke:
Q: What’s the difference between a duck?
A: One of its legs is both the same.
I think that qualifies as an intellectual joke. It was certainly over my head.
Blind guy with a seeing eye dog walks into a department store. Guy picks up dog by the tail and starts swinging him around over his head. Clerk rushes over and says nervously “Can I help you sir?” Guy replies: “No thanks, I’m just looking around.”
If you drop a piece of toast it always falls butter side down.
If you drop a cat it always lands right way up.
So if you attach a piece of toast to a cat and drop it, will it revolve around forever and never hit the ground?
Diagrams for the joke above me
Recently a master thief nearly got away with stealing several paintings from the Louvre. However, after planning the crime, breaking in, evading security, getting out, and escaping with the goods, he was captured only two blocks away when his van ran out of gas.
When asked how he could mastermind such a crime and then make such a foolish error, he replied, “I had no Monet to buy Degas to make the Van Gogh.”
There are three kinds of people in this world: People who can count, and people who can’t.
Q: Why does Karl Marx’s toilet play music & squawk when you flush it? A: Because of the violins and herons in the cistern.
Rene Magritte stopped at a cheese store to buy a wedge of Camembert. The owner, going to the front window, withdrew a large wheel from which he intended to take a slice. Magritte recoiled in horror: “No, no, not from that wheel; it’s been looked at all day!”
What’s the difference between Heaven and Hell in Europe? In Heaven the cops are British, the mechanics are German, the chefs are French, the lovers are Italian, and the businessmen are Swiss. In Hell the cops are German, the mechanics are French, the chefs are British, the lovers are Swiss, and the businessmen are Italian.
Gravity. Not just a good idea. It’s the law.
Paddy walks into a bar and orders three drinks to be lined up. OK says the barkeep but they will go flat. Paddy explains he has two brothers. One has gone to America and the other to Australia, but before they parted they all agreed to have beers for each other. Why that’s a lovely tradition says the bar keep. This goes on as Paddy orders three pints at once. Then one day Paddy orders only two. The bar goes quite. Oh I’m so sorry for your loss says the barkeep. NO,No say Paddy, nothing like that, I’ve converted to a Mormon and have given up drinking.
Q:Why did the surrealist cross the road ?
A:A fish !!
Q: What does a dyslexic, agnostic insomniac do?
A: Stays up nights wondering if there’s a dog.
A literalist walks into a bar and says “ouch.”
I’m reading a great book on anti-gravitational theory. I can’t put it down.
The pessimist says the glass is half full, while the optimist says the glass is half empty. The engineer says the glass is too large, and 50% of its capacity is wasted.
There are two kinds of people: people who will tell you there are two kinds of people, and people who won’t.
High on a hilltop in what is now Croatia, with a hazy view of the Adriatic in the distance, sits a building with a fascinatingly complicated history. It was originally built by the ancient Romans as a temple to their god of love. Then Attila and his band attacked it on the way both to and from Rome, and his descendants held it until the Byzantine Emperor Justinian recaptured it in the 6th century. He used it as a legal library, storing documents and decisions pursuant to his famous Code. For many centuries after that, it was used as a military installation and munitions depot by everyone from the Turks to the Nazis and their Ustashe allies, which unfortunately resulted in repeated explosions and fires that destroyed nearly all the old documents. Then after World War II the Catholic Church turned it into a convent, but decades of Communist rule, combined with natural attrition, left it with only one surviving Sister. And so the place entered the third millennium with no Huns, no writs, no Eros, and nun left on base.
A statistician, a biologist, and a physicist are abducted by the mafia to help them win at the horse races. After a few months of work, they ask the statistician what he’s developed. “I have a formula that predicts which horse have a better chance of winning on hot, rainy days.” “Great” says the mafioso.
When asked for his results, the biologist says “I’ve developed an undetectable serum which will make a horse run 26% faster”. “Even better” say the mafioso.
Flush with his success so far, the mafioso comes to the physicist. “What have you got?”, to which the physicist replies, “Well, imagine the horse is a sphere, ….”
“In some languages,” said the Oxford philosopher J.L. Austin, “a double negative yields an affirmative. In other languages, a double negative yields a more emphatic negative. Yet, curiously enough, I know of no language, either natural or artificial, in which a double affirmative yields a negative.”
Suddenly, from the back of the hall, in a thick Brooklyn accent came the comment, “Yeah, yeah.”
JOKE: What do Japanese pigeons sing?
Answer: High Coos
Argon walks into a bar and orders a drink. The bar tender says, “sir, we don’t serve noble gasses.”
There was no reaction.
Why did Jacques Derrida hate Christmas?
Because of the absence of presence.
There was a dyslexic agnostic insomniac who was kept awake at night wondering if there was a dog
think about it for a sec.
btw, that one is my favorite of all…;)
@Jon lee, thanks. Now all the good chemistry jokes Argon.
A horse walks into a bar, the bartender says,’Why the long face?”
Philosophy of life: It is better to be rich and healthy than to be poor and sick.
Two friends tell each other so many jokes they simply assigned a number to each to save time. One would say # 316 the other would laugh out loud and so forth. Once a third friend was present and asked about the number calling and it was explained to him how it worked, so he tried it # 47, no response from the other two. He asked why didn’t you laugh. they replied it’s the way you TELL a joke.
An internist, a radiologist, and an emergency room physician go duck hunting.
A bird appears, it’s the internist’s turn to shoot. He says: “what is it? a pigeon, a goose, a blackbird?” By then it’s gone.
Then it’s the radiologist’s turn. Another bird appears. The radiologist says, “I think it’s a duck, but maybe it’s a goose. I’ll take another look”. By then it’s gone.
Then It’s the ER Doc’s turn. A bird appears. Bang! “Got the SOB. What was it?”
What did the Buddhist Monk say to the hot dog vendor? Make me one with everything.
Two dyslexic guys walk into a bra
The minor poet died and went to heaven. First person he met inside the pearly gates was William Shakespeare. “Mr. Shakespeare”, he says, “I have been writing poetry for over fifty years with no recognition and not one line published. You, however, dead for over four hundred years, are still having your works performed. I need to know. What is your secret?
Shakespeare replies: “It is not what you write but how you write it. For instance, if you met a man with bandy legs how would you describe the experience in verse.
The minor poet thought for a while and the ventured:
As I was walking down the road
I met a man whose legs were bowed.
“Codswallop”, says Shakespeare.
“How would you write it”, asks the minor poet.
Forsooth what manner of man is this
Who wears his balls in parenthesis
A blonde walked into a bar and asked the bartender for a double entendre.
So he gave her one.
The final exam at Oxford during the Dark Ages was, “Who chased whom three times around what?” Not really a joke, but it always made me laugh.
Two atoms walk into a bar. One atom says to the other “I think I’ve lost an electron!” “Are you sure?” the other asks. “Yes” He says, “I’m Positive!”
Joe Paterno walks into a bar.
that’s it. he does nothing.
An Oxygen atom walked into a bar, and said to the bartender “Quick, give me 2 hydrogen atoms, I’m really thirsty.”
I’ve improved my joke:
An Oxygen atom went into the bar and said “I’m thirsty; give me a hydrogen atom. Wait a minute: better make it a double!”
There are 10 types of people on Earth. Those who understand hexadecimal and F the rest.
I hear a piercing eco!
An A, a C and an E walked into a bar. The bartender said, “Sorry. We don’t serve minors.”
So C left and the other two had an open fifth between them.
two physicsts passing by in the hallway One says to the other “What’s new?” the other replies E over h!”
I wrote that joke in 1969. I was sitting around with a bunch of friends in the journalism class at Federal Way High School in Washington State. We were telling stupid knock knock jokes and puns (a common occurrence for us) when I made the stupidest joke. “What’s the difference between a duck?/One legs both the same” I have shared the joke many times over the years (my kids get tired of hearing it). Today I asked Google Home to tell me a joke. Her’s was pretty funny. Then I asked Hey Google, “What’s the difference between a duck?” And she replied “One legs both the same.” I was shocked! Do I Googled the joke. I guess it is all over the internet in anti-joke forums and tech sites. Some people actually try and figure it out! In a strange way the joke IS funny. I guess I should have copyrighted it.
Q. How many Monkeys does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A. monkeys screw in trees not light bulbs
apparently, this Shakespeare imposter never went beyond the gates. He is one iamb too short.