Math & Humor

“The wise teacher… knows that 55 minutes of work plus 5 minutes’ laughter are worth twice as much as 60 minutes of unvaried work.” — Gilbert Highet, in The Art of Teaching

I’ve (usually intentionally) created varied humorous items in the context of math/statistics, informed by books (e.g., John Allen Paulos’ Mathematics and Humor) and Sam Cox’s comedy course that yielded a 4-minute set at Austin’s Laff Stop. My broader humor activities include a humor research journal article, Best Humorous Song at a 2021 statewide music contest, winning a 2018 Moment magazine cartoon caption contest, having humorous songs (“Earthwoman”, “Big Bad Grad School Blues”) played on FM radio, and giving a 2022 AATH workshop.

statistics edutainment triannual column (with Dennis Pearl) in Teaching Statistics, fall 2019 – present

lessons (“panel discussions”) driven by syndicated comic strips (e.g., Dilbert):

L. M. Lesser (2018). Classroom notes: ‘One in ten’. Teaching Statistics, 40(1), 33-34.

L. M. Lesser (2016). The stature of salary: Raised expectations or a tall tale? Mathematics Teacher, 110(3), 168-169.

L. M. Lesser (2015). Normally speaking. Mathematics Teacher, 108(6), 408, 410.

L. M. Lesser (2012). Lottery lunacy. Mathematics Teacher, 106(2), 93-94.

L. M. Lesser (2010). The high school weirdness factor. Mathematics Teacher, 103(7), 474-477.

L. M. Lesser (2008). Safe Havens graph. Mathematics Teacher, 101(9), 690, 692.

L. M. Lesser (2007). A round this date in time; Pizza pi, anyone? Mathematics Teaching in the Middle School, 12(7), 383, 387.

selected other STEM education humor-related items published

Lesser, L. (ongoing).  20+ cartoon captions (largely from winning monthly blind peer-reviewed national contests), 1 puzzle, 25 poems, 37 jokes, and 62 songs in the CAUSEweb collection of statistics educational fun items, which I curate with Dennis Pearl; also, I posted many of my math songs at, such as the humorous “Talkin’ Real-Life Problem Blues” (a winner in the National Museum of Mathematics’ 2018 Open Set math song contest)

Lesser, L. (2021). 2020 Questions. Journal of Irreproducible Results, 53(2), 8.

Lesser, L. (2018). Gender neutral design [joke].

Lesser, L. (2016). The square root transformation [joke], also published in 2017 in Radical Statistics.

Lesser, L. (Nov. 2015). invited performance at Open Set, National Museum of Mathematics, New York City.

Lesser, L. M. (2015). Inequality Proof. Journal of Humanistic Mathematics, 5(2), 185.

Lesser, L. M. (2014). Dicey Simulation Examples Made While ‘On a Roll’ in Pair-a-Dice. Journal of Irreproducible Results, 52(3), 15.

Lesser, L. (2014). Celebrate Random Acts of Kindness Day. Authored text and idea of cartoon for John Landers to draw for display at on Random Acts of Kindness day in 2014.

Lesser, L. (June 2013). One mean class [dramatic sketch]. Statistics Teacher Network, no. 81, p. 20.

Lesser, L. (May 2013). banquet performance, 5th biennial United States Conference on Teaching Statistics, Cary, NC.

Lesser, L. (2012). Using snakes to constrict statistics anxiety. Teaching Statistics, 34(3), 111.

Lesser, L. M. (2010). Watch your language when teaching mathematics! Journal of Irreproducible Results, 51(1), 8-9.

Lesser, L. (2007). “The Like-hurt scale of pleasurable pain” & “The tuna fish scale.” Journal of Irreproducible Results, 50(4), pp. 10, 13. [they won first place and honorable mention, respectively, in the JIR’s national humor contest on scales of measurement]

Lesser, Larry (2006). Resources for Humor/Fun/Motivation in the Mathematics/Statistics Classroom.  Handbook of the 17th annual meeting of the Association for Applied and Therapeutic Humor, p. 87.  Princeton, NJ: AATH.

and some cautions on using humor:

Lesser, L. (2016; Winter 2015-16). Sounding off on stereotypes. Noticias de TODOS: News from TODOS Mathematics for ALL11(2), 1-3 or

Lesser, L. (April 2014). Staring down stereotypes. Mathematics Teacher, 107(8), 568-571. This Mathematics Teacher article (with introductory video) selected for July 5, 2022 MTLT Journal Club meeting. Article will appear (augmented by summary of journal club discussion) in Mathematics Teacher: Learning and Teaching PK–12.  

Lesser, L. M. (2003). Further Comments and Cautions on Using Humor [letter]. Journal of Statistics Education, 11(1), 1-2.