Steven Wright

Steven WrightToday, the great comedian Steven Wright is 59 years old, which makes me feel very old. He is known for his surreal one-liners. But he is a lot more than that, as I will discuss in a moment. First, however, I want to discuss one of his jokes.

The joke is this: “If you were in a vehicle traveling at the speed of light and you turned your lights on, would they do anything?” This is a better description of Special Relativity than you are ever likely to hear. To begin with, nothing would happen. And that should explain why it is that you couldn’t have a vehicle that is traveling at the speed of light.

If we change the joke so that the vehicle is traveling at just under the speed of light, then the answer would be: yes. The light would emit at the speed of light. And the crux of the matter is that regardless of who was watching your vehicle, they would see the light moving at the same speed. That is why I spent years during my twenties obsessed with Special Relativity. But eventually, I learned as we all must, that since I have no actually experience of riding around in spaceships, I had no “common sense” about the way the world works when different objects were moving very fast relatively to each other. Regardless, I think you can learn a whole lot more from that one joke than you can from a single physics course.

At this point, I’m much more interested in Wright as a filmmaker than a comedian. He’s made a couple of half hour films. The most recent is One Soldier. It is very good and even kind of profound, if a bit too much like a Bergman parody. The first is The Appointments of Dennis Jennings. It’s very funny, with a brilliant ending:

Happy birthday Steven Wright!

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