Stephen Hawking was not only a brilliant physicist who made groundbreaking discoveries on black holes and the nature of the universe, but also a witty and humorous person who could make anyone laugh with his jokes. He had a great sense of humor and was not afraid to poke fun at himself and others, even in the face of his debilitating motor neuron disease that confined him to a wheelchair and a computerized voice.
Hawking’s humor was evident in his books, interviews, TV appearances and public talks, where he often cracked jokes about his condition, science, politics, pop culture and more. He also appeared in several popular shows like The Simpsons, Star Trek and The Big Bang Theory, where he showed his comedic skills and charmed the audiences.
Here are some of the funniest jokes that Hawking made in various occasions, along with the poor saps who found themselves at the receiving end of a cosmic burn.
- When Hawking joked about Brexit with Theresa May: At the 2016 Pride of Britain Awards, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a rousing speech in praise of Hawking before presenting him with the Lifetime Achievement Award. The recipient thanked the Prime Minister before going for the jugular: “I deal in tough mathematical questions every day, but please don’t ask me to help with Brexit.”
- When Hawking praised the power of Zayn Malik: Appearing via hologram for a talk at the Sydney Opera House in April 2015, Hawking was asked about the “cosmological effect” of Zayn Malik departing One Direction and leaving a trail of distraught teenage girls in his wake. “Finally, a question about something important,” replied the good doctor. “My advice to any heartbroken young girl is to pay close attention to the study of theoretical physics. It would not be beyond the realms of possibility that somewhere outside of our own universe lies another different universe. And in that universe, Zayn is still in One Direction.”
- When Hawking dissed John Oliver: In June 2014, Hawking joined John Oliver for the debut of the “People Who Think Good” interview series on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver. The entire segment is well worth watching, but the highlight came when Oliver asked, “You’ve stated that you believe there could be an infinite number of parallel universes. Does that mean that there is a universe out there where I am smarter than you?” “Yes,” replied Hawking. “And also a universe where you’re funny.”
- When Hawking understood the power of an airport bookstore: Speaking of his writing, in 2004 The New York Times asked: “With all your intense erudition, why do you bother writing pop-science books about the universe?” Hawking: “I want my books sold on airport bookstalls.”
- When Hawking mocked Eddie Redmayne’s good looks: Prior to the February 2015 Academy Awards, for which his biopic The Theory of Everything had garnered numerous nominations, Hawking said he was happy to let leading man Eddie Redmayne use his signature computerized voice box for the film. He then added: “Unfortunately Eddie did not inherit my good looks.”
- When Hawking met Jim Carrey: In 2015, Hawking met actor Jim Carrey at a Comic Relief event in London. Carrey posted a photo of them together on Twitter with the caption: “I got to meet one of my heroes tonight. Thank you Stephen Hawking for your kind words and your sense of humor.” Hawking replied: “Jim Carrey was a great pleasure to meet you tonight. I’m such a huge fan. I love Dumb and Dumber.”
- When Hawking organized a time traveler’s party: In 2009, Hawking held a party for time travelers at Cambridge University. He sent out invitations after the party was over, hoping that someone from the future would show up. No one did. He later said: “I gave a party for time-travelers, but I didn’t send out the invitations until after the party. I sat there a long time, but no one came.”
- When Hawking had a beer with Homer Simpson: In 1999, Hawking appeared on The Simpsons as himself and befriended Homer Simpson at Moe’s Tavern. He praised Homer’s theory of a donut-shaped universe and said he might steal it. He also said he liked Homer’s views on life and offered him a beer using his robotic arm. Homer accepted and said: “Wow! I can’t believe someone I never heard of is hanging out with a guy like me!”
- When Hawking used comedy to make science accessible: In 2017, Hawking gave an interview to BBC News where he talked about how he used comedy to make science more appealing and understandable to the public. He said: “Humour can be used very effectively to put across complex ideas that people might otherwise find unintelligible or dull.”
- When Hawking showed his love for Monty Python: In 2014, Hawking recorded a video message for Monty Python’s live reunion show at London’s O2 Arena. He said he was a big fan of their work and even sang part of their famous song “The Galaxy Song”. He also ran over fellow physicist Brian Cox with his wheelchair for criticizing Monty Python’s scientific accuracy.
Stephen Hawking was not only a genius who advanced our knowledge of the cosmos, but also a funny and charming person who made us laugh with his brilliant humor. He once said: “Life would be tragic if it weren’t funny.” He certainly lived up to that motto.