College is a Joke: Who are the funniest people on Yale’s campus?
Columnist Audrey Kolker goes deep with the campuses biggest clowns. This column appears in the November, 2022 issue of the Yale Daily News Magazine.
Jack Moffatt ‘25 is kind of tall, but he won’t say how tall. His hair is curly. His glasses are glasses. He can jump pretty high, despite the Lyme disease.
I met Jack freshman year, when the two of us were the blondest members of a ten-person suite at the top of Farnam Hall. It’s been an eventful fifteen months since then. Jack foraged: he brought five stolen signposts, two working hand sanitizer dispensers, and a ten-foot-long pole back to the suite. Jack conquered: he became a competitively ranked geometry tutor for students in Lithuania, he ranked 700th in the world in the online geography game Geoguessr, and he would have won JE’s game of Assassin if he wasn’t faceblind. Jack made allies: using unsalted almonds from the Bow Wow, he trained the Old Campus squirrels to sit. They repaid him with unflinching obedience—and at least one tick-borne illness.
When I ask how that illness is going, Jack grins. “It’s really great. I need a conversation topic sometimes. ‘Jack, what’s going on in your life?’ Aw, I have Lyme disease. It’s because I was too invested in meeting some squirrels.”
Not that Jack’s interest in animals is limited to rodents. In Florida, his home state, Jack’s favorite pastime is yelling at alligators; he once went viral on TikTok for making a math pun while holding six lizards. The pun? “My friend in calculus today was trying to take the integral of -csc(x)cot(x). Why couldn’t he do it? Cuz he can’t!” (The integral of -csc(x)cot(x) is cosecant). It’s terrible, sure, but the video captures Jack’s personality pretty well. By the time I graduate with a bachelor’s degree in reading books, Jack will have completed a master’s in mathematics and befriended the wild.
For Jack, it’s more exciting if the squirrels remember him than if other people notice him training the squirrels. He knows it’s funny, but he would still do it even if it wasn’t. Is this the key to humor—not caring either way? When I ask Jack if he thinks he’s funny, he shrugs. After two and half semesters studying Jack’s supernaturally excellent deadpan, I still can’t tell when he’s joking.
I once heard Jack describe another human being as a “lovely, lighthearted chap.” If we’re just talking like that now, then Jack is impish, bashful, and wry. Some of his expressions are so exaggerated that they become farcical: a wide-swung snap, liberal use of the phrase “aw, jeez”. He speaks as if enchanté is flexible enough to capture every human emotion.
Jack often finds himself in strange situations. He thinks of them like side quests in a video game, or B-plots in a television show. “If you watch a TV show and the whole thing is just plot, that’s exhausting,” Jack says. “You need side plots to develop the characters’ morals and relationships.”
The side quest approach came in handy when he started college. Life became, in Jack’s words, “very plot heavy”; something needed to be done to make each episode unique. The main quest: Jack takes (or skips) graduate-level math courses, uncovering the secrets of the universe through equations. The side quest: Jack rollerskates eight miles to Quinnipiac University before learning how to break.
All this to say: Jack’s character is really developed. He spent a month memorizing the longest words in the dictionary for the middle school regional spelling bee. Then he was eliminated—on a short word. (What got you into spelling? “What got me out of it was ‘cashew.’”) Jack didn’t get into math until his sophomore year of high school. (Before that, what were you doing? “Being awesome.”) On a whim, he tried to solve one of the problems on a mail-in math competition and realized it couldn’t be completed without learning calculus. So Jack did what anyone would do: he learned calculus, which turned out to be “kinda cool.”
I ask Jack to walk me through how he thinks about math. The answer is he doesn’t think. Jack used to have an internal monologue, but he decided the redundancy was slowing things down: “I had to fire the guy that was doin’ it.” His brain has been silent ever since.
“Sorry, what?” I say. Jack explains. “You know in Ratatouille when he tries the cheese and it’s good, and then he tries the grapes and they’re good, and then he tries the cheese with the grapes and it’s like fireworks?” I did know. “Imagine you’re thinking about a math problem where it’s so abstracted that everything is all fireworks.”
But talking to Jack never feels like talking to a pyrotechnic calculator. He gives his friends’ feelings and grievances the same attention and focus he might give a math problem. He’s been dating his girlfriend for over two years, and his room is filled with her crochet projects.
“The moral of the story,” says Jack, “is to make more side quests, so everyone can watch your life and say, ‘Wow, the writers are really good.’”