You don’t have to be funny to give a great talk, but if you are, you can give a great and funny talk. So what’s the funniest scientific talk you’ve ever heard? Or the funniest joke or line?
Probably the funniest joke I’ve heard in a talk involved a bit of physical comedy. When I was in grad school, the Rutgers and Princeton ecology & evolution grad students had an annual symposium featuring talks from students from both schools. I remember a Princeton student (Josh Plotkin?) giving a theoretical talk on species-area curves. He was writing on blank overheads as he spoke, as theoreticians often did in those days (yes, I’ve now carbon-dated myself). He derived an expected form for the species-area curve, different from the traditional power-law form. Then he put up a pre-printed overhead comparing his predicted curve to real data. But after putting it up for a split-second–just long enough for the audience to see that the fit wasn’t great–he unfocused the projector, turning the whole image into a blur, and said “Now if you squint at this, you’ll see that the fit is actually pretty good!”