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What’s so funny about math? Award-winning TV writers will explain the calculus of comedy


What’s so funny about math? Find out when award-winning comedy television writers with degrees in mathematics and science discuss “The Calculus of Comedy: Math in The Simpsons, Futurama, and The Big Bang Theory.”

The event is on Wednesday, Oct. 25, 2017, from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the UCLA California NanoSystems Institute (CNSI). Tickets for the program, sponsored by UCLA’s Institute for Pure and Applied Mathematics, cost $15, and can be purchased through Eventbrite.

Participating in the panel discussion will be:

  • J. Stewart Burns, a television writer and producer whose credits include “The Simpsons” and “Futurama.” He has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Harvard University and a master’s degree in mathematics from UC Berkeley.
  • David X. Cohen, who has written for “The Simpsons” and served as the head writer and executive producer of “Futurama.” He graduated from Harvard University with a bachelor’s degree in physics and UC Berkeley, with a master’s degree in computer science. Cohen has won four Primetime Emmy Awards. 
  • Al Jean, who has received eight Emmy Awards and a Peabody Award for his work on “The Simpsons.” Jean went to Harvard University when he was 16 years old and has a bachelor’s degree in mathematics.
  • Eric Kaplan, who is an executive producer on “The Big Bang Theory,” and has written for the “Late Show with David Letterman” and “Futurama,” among other programs. He has a Ph.D. in philosophy from UC Berkeley where he wrote his dissertation on humor in the philosophy of Soren Kierkegaard.
  • Ken Keeler, who has written for “The Simpsons,” “Futurama,” the “Late Show with David Letterman” and other television series. He proved a theorem which appears in a Futurama episode. Keeler studied applied mathematics at Harvard University, and earned a master’s degree from Stanford University in electrical engineering before returning to Harvard for a doctorate in applied mathematics. Two of his Futurama episodes won Writers Guild Awards. 
  • Jeff Westbrook, who is a three-time winner of the Writer’s Guild of America Award, and whose credits include “The Simpsons” and “Futurama.” Prior to becoming a TV writer, he was a successful algorithms researcher. After majoring in physics and history of science at Harvard University, he earned his Ph.D. in computer science at Princeton University. He then took a faculty position at Yale University, later becoming a researcher for AT&T Laboratories before leaving research for Hollywood.

The moderator will be Sarah Greenwald, professor of mathematics at Appalachian State University. Her Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Pennsylvania is in Riemannian geometry. She studies connections between mathematics and society, including women, minorities and popular culture. She and a colleague, Andrew Nestler, created the educational website

The event will begin with a lecture by best-selling author Simon Singh (“The Simpsons and Their Mathematical Secrets”), who will discuss some of the mathematical nuggets hidden in “The Simpsons,” from Euler’s identity to Mersenne primes, and how “Futurama” has managed to include number theory and complex ideas about geometry. He earned his Ph.D. in particle physics at Emmanuel College, Cambridge and at CERN, Geneva.

A limited number of free tickets will be available for UCLA students who come to IPAM between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. Friday, Oct. 20 with their Bruin Card. If additional student tickets remain, they will be available Monday, Oct. 23 at IPAM, starting at 9 a.m.

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