Good humor contains much good medicine

Shahar Madjar, MD

My brother Shlomi was a joker. He was good at telling jokes. I estimate that his inventory included about 50 jokes–short stories, with funny punchlines. He would tell his jokes, then retell them, until, by the age of 18, I knew all of Shlomi’s jokes by heart.

As a student of agronomy, Shlomi took several science classes at college. He was particularly fond of scientific jokes, short stories with funny punchlines that you could understand only if you had some knowledge of science.

To understand Shlomi’s joke about Issac Newton, for example, you needed to know that Sir Issac Newton (1643-1727) was a mathematician and a physicist who laid the foundation for classical mechanics and formulated the laws of motion and the theory of gravitation.

To have a good laugh, it wouldn’t hurt to know the Apple incident story, as succinctly told by Voltaire in his “Essay on Epic Poetry:” “Sir Issac Newton walking in his gardens, had the first thought of his system of gravitation, upon seeing an apple falling from a tree.” In another version of the story (probably a myth), the apple fell on Newton’s head, inspiring him, in a flash of the moment, to formulate his three Laws of Motion.

To understand Shlomi’s joke, you wouldn’t need to know the three laws of motion, but, for the sake of completeness, I will briefly remind you of the laws anyway:

Newton’s First Law–Objects in motion tend to stay in motion and objects at rest tend to stay at rest unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.

Newton’s Second Law–Force equals mass times acceleration (F = ma).

Newton’s Third Law–For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

Now that you know it all, you can easily understand Shlomi’s joke. It goes like this:

“Do you know what the three Laws of Newton are?,” Shlomi would ask, and just before you would admit you have no idea, he would jump in and say:

“Here are the three Laws of Newton:

“Newton’s First Law–The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.

Newton’s Second Law–It is good that watermelons don’t grow on trees (otherwise the Apple Incident would result in Newton’s early demise).

Newton’s Third Law–A worm in an apple is better than half-a-worm in half-an-apple (seeing half-a-worm in your apple means that you accidentally ate the other half. Bon Appetit!).

I was reminded of Shlomi’s joke late last night. Shai, my son, was back from college for a visit. We were standing in the kitchen. I was eating a big red plum. Before I ate it, I cut the plum into slices. When I was almost done eating, I noticed that the last uneaten slice of the plum had a piece of the price-code sticker still on it.

I showed Shai the slice with the part-sticker and said: “I must have eaten a piece of the bar-code sticker.” We laughed for a while, and I said: “It is good that through millions of years of evolution, my body developed the mechanism to overcome such an idiotic mistake.”

Shai said, “Yes, perhaps a million years ago, you would die because of such a mistake. But, it wouldn’t be in vain, for your death would serve the process of natural selection, and future generations would benefit from your misfortune.”

“True,” I replied, “on the other hand, a million years ago, there wouldn’t be a sticker on my plum.”

I found the Plum Incident to be as funny and as revealing as Newton’s Apple Incident. It inspired me to think about what makes us laugh. To understand Newton’s joke, I would need to know about Newton, the Apple Incident and the laws of motion. To find the Plum Incident funny, I would have to understand the concept of evolution. In other words, to understand a joke, any joke, one needs to understand the joke-teller frame of reference.

And in a moment of inspiration, I came upon my own three Laws of Humor (I hope that now that you know my frame of reference, you will find my rules somewhat funny):

Madjar’s First Law: Laughter is the best medicine.

Madjar’s Second Law: Funny equals sense of humor times shared cultural references (F = SOHxSCR).

Madjar’s Third Law: A half-a-price-code-sticker on a half-a-plum is better than a half-a-worm in half-an-apple.

Editor’s note: Dr. Shahar Madjar is a urologist working in several locations in the Upper Peninsula. Contact him at smadjar@yahoo.com or at DrMadjar.com.