Science & Technology

5 Times Stephen Hawking Proved He Had a Wicked Sense of Humor

On March 14, 2018, we lost one of the most brilliant minds in science. From the origins of the universe to the awesome power of black holes, Stephen Hawking made monumental contributions to cosmology and scientific knowledge as a whole. But he didn't just make strides in scientific journals — he captured the minds of the public, as well. When Research!America asked U.S. adults to name one living scientist, Stephen Hawking made up nearly half of the responses. But even if they know his name, most people might not know his personality. Stephen Hawking had a cosmic sense of humor. Here are four times he proved it.

His "Accidental" Wheelchair Mishaps

In Kitty Ferguson's biography, "Stephen Hawking: An Unfettered Mind," the author wrote about Hawking's wry habit of running over the toes of people he didn't like with his wheelchair. In 1976, Hawking spoke to Prince Charles at his induction into the Royal Society. "The prince was intrigued by Hawking's wheelchair, and Hawking, twirling it around to demonstrate its capabilities, carelessly ran over Prince Charles's toes," Ferguson wrote. "One of Hawking's regrets in life was not having an opportunity to run over Margaret Thatcher's toes."

Of course, when asked about it, he dismissed the story as a "malicious rumor" — before adding, "I'll run over anyone who repeats it."

His Sick Burn on John Oliver

In 2014, John Oliver spoke to Hawking on the satirical news show Last Week Tonight. He delivered a few zingers during the interview, including at the opening in response to Oliver asking, "Be honest: Is this [interview] the single greatest honor you have ever recieved?"

"Yes," he said through his speech synthesizer.

"It's a little hard to read your tone of voice," Oliver said. "When you say that, are you being sarcastic?"

"Yes," he replied.

Later in the interview, Oliver posed another question. "You've stated that you believe there could be an infinite number of parallel universes. Does that mean that there is a universe out there where I am smarter than you?"

"Yes," Hawking replied. "And also a universe where you're funny."

The Time He Went Up Against Paul Rudd in a Game of "Quantum Chess"

Hawking has made plenty of pop-culture appearances, which we'll get to in a second. But for one in particular, he repeatedly owned Paul Rudd at a (no longer!) fictional game called Quantum Chess. The short film, which premiered at a quantum computing conference at Caltech, also stars Keanu Reeves and was directed by Reeves' "Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure" co-star, Alex Winter. "Anyone Can Quantum" is about 11 minutes long, and worth watching until the very end.

His Party for Time Travelers

In 2009, Stephen Hawking threw a cocktail party that no one attended. That's because he sent the invitation after the party was over. In his mini-series "Into the Universe with Stephen Hawking," he invited would-be temporal adventurers with an invitation that read, "You are cordially invited to a reception for Time Travellers." It included the date, time, and location of the event. By publicizing the invitation after the party took place, only someone from the future could attend.

That led into a warning about the dangers of time travel, but it's worth seeing Hawking surrounded by untouched champagne and uneaten hors d'oeuvres at his empty soiree. "What a shame," Hawking said. "I was hoping a future Ms. Universe was going to step through the door."

His Many, Many Pop Culture Cameos

You might not expect much from the IMDB page of a theoretical physicist, but Hawking's is long, star-studded, and pretty hilarious. There's "Star Trek: The Next Generation," for which he appeared in a 1993 episode. There's the sitcom "The Big Bang Theory," with seven episodes in which he made an appearance. And of course, there are "The Simpsons" and "Futurama," where he took on a colorful cartoon form and delivered one-liners galore. He graced "The Simpsons" four times from 1999 through 2010, and "Futurama" saw him in many roles: twice on the TV series, once in the movie "The Beast with a Billion Backs," and even as a voice actor in the video game "Futurama: Worlds of Tomorrow."

Check out a few of the cameos below.

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Written by Ashley Hamer March 14, 2018

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