The Funniest Element is Boron

July 11th, 2013

Jerry Seinfeld is not an expert on chemistry, but he is an expert on comedy. That is why we must take him seriously when he says that boron is the funniest element:

-(Fast forward to 21:53)

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That video is a recent interview of Jerry Seinfeld on The Howard Stern Show. For those of you who don’t want to watch it—and the whole interview is really great, by the way—I’ve transcribed the chemistry discussion here:

Seinfeld: What does it take to get a cab driver’s license? I think all you need is a face. This seems to be their big qualification. They put it on the license. No blank heads are allowed to drive cabs. And a name with, like, eight consonants in a row.

Stern: Right.

Seinfeld: Right? And some of the letters in these names, I don’t even know how I would report the guy. His name was Amal, and then the symbol for boron.

Stern: Right. When I hear “the symbol for boron”, that is the joke. I mean, I cannot help but think how brilliant that is.

Seinfeld: Thank you. Why? You like the choice of boron?

Stern: Boron!

Stern: Boron, boron is the right element.

Seinfeld: That’s right.

Stern: It’s funny.

Seinfeld: Yes. A lot of other elements I could’ve picked.

Stern: Right. But you picked boron.

Seinfeld: It’s the funniest one.

Stern: Right. Now, first of all, when you were writing that bit, did you worry that outside of New York or big cities, that maybe people wouldn’t get that joke. Do you worry about who it’s going to universally appeal to?

Seinfeld: If it didn’t work on the road, I would’ve not done it on the road, but it did.

Stern: It did work.

Seinfeld: Because in the end, funny is funny.

Stern: Right, so, maybe a guy from Kansas understands that the symbol for boron is what we see on a cab?

Seinfeld: You know, Howard, when something is funny… You know, I watched Richard Pryor talk about how it feels to be hooked on…on…on…

Stern: On coke, or heroin.

Seinfeld: And I get it.

Stern: Yes.

Seinfeld: I’ve never done it. I don’t even know what those drugs are.

Stern: But yet, that is compelling.

Seinfeld: If the…the guy takes you there. That’s the thing.

Stern: Alright. So, you were in a cab, and is that where you got the thought, where you saw the symbol…

Seinfeld: And I realized, why am I not scared? And even though this is a ridiculously dangerous…I would never drive like this, I have no seat belt on, and I’m not scared.

Stern: And you trust this guy from another fucking land.

Seinfeld: Yeah.

Stern: We’re not even sure he knows how to drive.

Seinfeld: Yeah.

Stern: And so that occurs to you. Do you immediately write it down in a book?

Seinfeld: Now this question, I get all the time.

Stern: Right. And I want to kn…

Seinfeld: Why?

Stern: I’ll tell you why. Because I have thoughts all the time, if I don’t immediately write them down for my radio show, they’re gone. It’s gone.

Seinfeld: Yes. No, I do write things down. But people will ask. People ask me this, and they ask this hundreds of times: Do you have a pad? Do you write it on a…

Stern: Right! What’s the process?!

Seinfeld: Do you write it on a…? You write it! I had a little notebook, and you write it! People make notes all the time for things.

Stern: And did you write down the boron?

Seinfeld: No.

Stern: Where does that come from?

Seinfeld: Sitting with it.

Stern: I see.

Seinfeld: I sit with it.

Stern: Now, what do you mean sitting with it? You go home?

Seinfeld: I think this whole thing, the TV thing, I like the idea of the screen. It’s like TV. I go, that’s funny, I’ll play with that. And then the license, and then there was the “O” with the line through it.

Stern: Right.

Seinfeld: Right? And then I go…I don’t know, and then you think of the joke: you know, it’s a like a symbol from the chart of the elements. So then I thought, ok, which element?

Stern: Right.

Seinfeld: I’m going to use an element as a reference here, and that’ll be funny.

Stern: And boron was your first choice?

Seinfeld: No, it was not.

Stern: What was your first choice?

Seinfeld: My first choice was, ummm, I can’t remember. And then I looked up the chart of the elements, and I thought, “Oh, boron, that’s the funny one.”

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So, there you go. I’m not sure what “the symbol for boron” is, since we abbreviate elements using letters without diacritical marks, but I’m guessing Seinfeld is referring to the archaic pictographic symbols for the elements. Here’s a couple of charts of symbols used by John Dalton, and the “‘O’ with a line through it” appears to be nitrogen. I can’t find an old symbol for boron, probably because it was too funny for stuffy chemists in the olden days to take seriously.

While I personally find boron to be amusing, I think that molybdenum is much funnier.


16 Responses to “The Funniest Element is Boron”

  1. Leigh Says:

    Molybdenum IS much funnier. When you say it, it sounds like you’re talking with a mouthful of marbles. I also think it’s cute that people call it Molly for short.

    And the pnictogens are definitely the funniest group.

  2. Chad Jones Says:

    I have that Seinfeld set on my iPod. I have to say that Boron is the one that works the best. Every time I hear that bit I think to myself “The symbol for Boron? You mean a ‘B’?” – and then I laugh anyways. That’s how I know it’s good.

  3. Bob Sacamano Says:

    Just writing to say that any Seinfeld entries on this blog are warmly appreciated–keep ‘em coming!

  4. Per-Ola Norrby Says:

    You do know that Mo is the chemical answer to life, the universe, and everything?

  5. Eric Says:

    Maybe I’m just being a chemist about this, but did anyone else see an irony to Stern’s question “Did you worry that outside of New York or big cities, that maybe people wouldn’t get that joke?” Because New Yorkers are obviously so much smarter and cosmopolitan. Clearly neither of these guys have any idea of boron being just “B”. It’s a joke rooted in society’s collective ignorance. I don’t know, but I think this is a joke I could imagine coming out of Larry the Cable Guy in a comedy club in the deep south with no loss of quality.

  6. Mrs._Beakley Says:

    The funniest symbol from Dalton’s list is obviously titanium.

  7. Tim Says:

    I substituted different elements for boron in the joke in Jerry Seinfeld’s accent, and none of them are funny.

    ‘… the symbol for molybdenum.’ Not funny.
    ‘… the symbol for phosphorus.’ Only slightly funny.
    ‘… the symbol for arsenic.’ Distracting.
    ‘… the symbol for iron/mercury/silver/gold/lead/copper/tin/aluminum.’ No-one will get the chemical context!

  8. Unstable Isotope Says:

    Tungsten is the funniest element, obviously.

    I was puzzled during that interview because I kept think B is the symbol for boron, why is that funny?

  9. qvxb Says:

    Perhaps boron is funny to comedians because it’s similar to Borat.

  10. Andre Says:

    Eric: I’m pretty sure his big city question was in regard to the prevalence of foreign cabbies, or a familiarity with taxi use in general, which isn’t a big suburban or rural thing.

    This is where I am a little put off by the joke. Oh, a foreign sounding name. Hilarious? “People from other countries can’t drive” is supposed to be funny? (Stern says this explicitly and Seinfeld agrees.) I mean, this joke is quite old (like 50s and 60s old at least) and pretty par for the course with Seinfeld. (White people humor, amirite? I also liked the “Richard Pryor did drugs, but I don’t know ANYTHING about drugs. For realsies. Coke is a soft drink, right?” bit.)

    But I think Seinfeld shows his true comedic talent with selecting boron. It’s easily recognizable as an element, where something like molybdenum might not be, but it’s also exotic in most peoples’ minds, unlike oxygen or copper or aluminum. A nice baby bear type selection.

  11. beaker Says:

    I was confused by that joke (the B part), which made it even funnier when Howard said “Right, so, maybe a guy from Kansas understands that the symbol for boron is what we see on a cab?” …cause we’re from Kansas!

  12. wolfie Says:

    I take mineral pills, and therefore I hope I do not suffer from any heavy element deficiency, such as iodine, selenium, zinc, iron, or a few others. Boron is not among them.

    And, also : my former boss said : why don’t you try boron for your superconductor ? And, me : NO, I know it is the S2N2C4H4.

  13. wolfie Says:

    Whatever. I programmed my GPS to the name of my second son, Adrian, but now, vocationally, it also answers to “Mamma Mia”.

    AMy be useful in Italy, at least.

  14. Carmen Says:

    Adding the obligatory link about the time Conan went off on ‘boron morons’.
    http://tierneylab.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/09/oops-make-that-four-forms-of-pure-boron/

  15. nanocomment Says:

    It appears John Oliver was listening!

    Last night’s Daily Show featured “John Oliver’s Arcane Details of Boron-Group Metals Pricing UPDATE”

  16. Booboo Says:

    Boron rhymes with moron that’s why it’s funny good greaf !


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