On mashing doughnuts into balls

If you’re at all into math (and even if you’re not), you probably know

Well, of course, they had to give the Fields Medal to Perelman, which he rejected, “not wanting to be a figurehead for [the Poincaré conjecture] or wanting to represent it.” (the words of Sir John M. Ball, president of the International Mathematical Union)

Perfectly understandable! And perfectly understandable that such a seemingly common-sense math problem that has proven so intractable for hundreds of years, until being solved by an eccentric genius, should provide quite a bit of fodder for the media, both traditional and otherwise. The conjecture relates to telling as easily as possible whether or not a three-dimensional thing is a sphere. Poincaré conjectured that if a “three-manifold” (read: “3-D thing”) “has the trivial fundamental group” (read: “every loop in the ‘thing’ can be ‘lassoed’ into a point”) then it’s the same as a sphere.*

Both Stephen Colbert and Ze Frank (of The Show with Ze Frank fame) hit on the idea of disproving the conjecture by smooshing doughnuts (which have holes!) into gooey, delicious doughnut-balls (that have no holes!). Furthermore, they both made gags about Munchkins, those adorable little hole-less doughnuts…funny! I’m betting that this is an example of spontaneously converging comedic brilliance, but the cynic inside of me won’t let go of the idea that one of them ripped the other off!

Ze and Colbert

Regardless, math is funny, and delicious!

Links: to The Show and The Colbert Report segments featuring doughnut-crushing fun

*Note: If you’ve seen the Poincare conjecture described as saying “you can’t turn a solid torus into a sphere without tearing or breaking” you may be a little confused. That statement is not wrong, and it does follow from the Poincaré conjecture, but you can also show that it’s true much more easily than by using the Poincaré conjecture, and it certainly is no proof of the conjecture, as it’s been insinuated to be.

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  1. spencer

    Both John Stewart and Ze Frank (of The Show with Ze Frank fame) hit on the idea of disproving the conjecture by smooshing doughnuts

    that’s Stephen Colbert, not John Stewart.

  2. Heh, thanks, fixed that one!

  3. aboutmakingmoney

    I would say one of them rip of the other. The writers for the Colbert report probably saw it on The SHow and copied it.

  4. ahhyeah

    What’s the saying? Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. I never would have known about Ze Frank if it weren’t for Stephen Colbert using one of his jokes (are jokes copyrighted?) and boing boing mentioning it.

  5. Look guys, as someone who writes for his own podcast, its easy to have a similar look at a situation. Colbert and team are extremely funny. so is ze Frank. It is possible they both thought of the same joke. And its not like its an incredible stretch of a joke. I thought the same thing when I saw the speech.

  6. The “problem” with The Daily Show and the Colbert Report is (a) they are very high profile, and (b) that they have a staff of writers who are pretty good at sussing out every obvious (but intellectual) joke based on the headlines of the day. That means that anyone else who makes humorous observation about the day’s news has a pretty good chance of approximating some gag featured on those programs.

    I can’t tell you how many times I’ve made some political joke on my site and later received email saying that I’d ripped off The Daily Show (even in cases where my post predated their broadcast) or that John Steward stole my joke (even when I’d made my observation after them). The same is almost certainly true in this case as well.

  7. Something I just thought about. What are the chances ze Frank works for Comedy Central in some degree. They are hosting his ringtones. It’s possible he is either a writer, or in some other way employed by CC.

  8. sal

    never heard of ze frank before, will go check him out

  9. Tim

    It may stem from the fact that the original stories from the press about this math problem try to simplify it by using donuts as an example. Both Ze Frank and writers for the Colbert Report may have simply read about it being simplified as a “donut problem” and came up with the same idea. It’s good to see donuts linking humanity though.

  10. Talk about “math problems”: You could probably win the Fields Medal if you could calculate the odds of a Colbert Report writer simply “coming up with the same idea” and execution all the way to the Munchkins reference? As for commenter “Rich” and his line: “I thought the same thing when I saw the speech.” Now, that is rich.

  11. hagheid


    “please DO NOT upload these movies to youtube or any other vid hosting site”

    Way to gone Frank…….

  12. I’m inclined to agree with Tim, and say that the joke is an obvious jab at the how math (especially topology) is always reported in a very dumbed-down, to the point where it seems sort of silly and trivial.

    But I don’t know! I’m not even sure if the bit in question is just a silly gag or a very intelligent jab at the way “smart” subjects are reported in the media. (Boy, that’s three three-leter words for “joke”!)

  13. We make jokes about such math problems because the jokester really has no conception or frame of reference for understanding the problem. Like making God jokes.

  14. on mashing doughnuts into balls reminds me of an old poem probably first seen by me in something by Kilgore Trout or Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. but seen all over the world in a variety of stalls and above urinals.

    Those who write on s#!+house walls
    should roll their s#!+ in little balls.
    Those who read these words of wit
    Should eat those little balls of s#!+

    Is that a famous quote?

  15. Tom

    I remember mashing donutes into dense munchkins a dozen years ago. Neither of them is original nor is it a joke since neither one is funny.

  16. manbeast

    Dear Mashing Donuts into Balls,

    I like to mash bread into balls. I also enjoy mashing Mike and Ike candies into balls.



  17. Rich got it right. This joke was so basic and obvious as to not even be worth asserting ownership over.

  18. I think we all need a life. I don’t have time for this, I have to feed my “Pet Rock”.

  19. colbert stole material from me also, and continues to do it to this day, he thinks he can get away with it, or his writers anyways, but as long as i dont get any credit/$ for my material its war, and i beleive more sand more people need to come out because i beleive he stole it from Ze , and its time for sum damn right payback for this corporate fucks!!! hes stolen loads of material from me i cant even tell u how much, and i wont explain to u what he stole because u wont beleive me, but ill tell u the colbert show been spyin on my damn computer!!!!!!!!!!!! and i want them to stop!!! this is serious!!!

  20. David

    Hi all,

    No one probably cares anymore, but I am a mathematics student, and the donut = torus by smushing joke is about as old as the field of topology itself. More precisely, I have heard that joke well before Perelman proved his conjecture, and before either comedian could possibly have made the joke. My point is that it’s an obvious joke, and there’s no reason to suspect either comedian ripped off the other.

  1. 1 Fifteen minutes is plenty for me! « Mumble Mumble…

    [...] I’ve been BoingBoing-ed! A few days ago I noticed some similarities in the donut-mashing gags feature in The Colbert Report and The Show with Ze Frank, and the folks at BB thought fit to tell the world about it. So, world, welcome to my humble corner of the internet. [...]

  2. 2 Edward Champion’s Return of the Reluctant » Circle the Wagons, Online Comic Cohorts

    [...] Did Stephen Colbert rip off Ze Frank? [...]

  3. 3 The Last Minute Blog » links for 2006-08-26

    [...] On mashing doughnuts into balls « Mumble Mumble… colbert writers jacking ze frank’s joke? (tags: colbert zefrank zefranktheshow) [...]

  4. 4 Stephen Colbert, ZeFrank, a doughnut and a predictable backlash « Angry 365 Days a Year

    [...] Anyway, this week, Colbert finds himself embroiled in an Internet storm-in-a-teacup involving ZeFrank and a doughnut.  Sharp-eyed WordPress blogger Kleinschmidt who has an interest in mathematics noted that ZeFrank and Colbert made essentially the same joke about the Poincare conjecture, illustrated with a doughnut.  ZeFrank’s show featured the joke before Colbert’s.  He made a good natured joke about the cynic in him thinking Colbert had ripped off ZeFrank but acknowledging that in all probability it was a coincidence.  The blog linked to above contains links to both videos so you can see them for yourself. [...]

  5. 5 What’s Ze Brand? « Marketing Nirvāna — by Mario Sundar

    [...] 2. Church of the Customer links to Colbert’s “freaking brilliance on the web“. But is Colbert paying the sincerest compliment to Ze by imitation? – [...]

  6. 6 newsBreaks.net » The Colbert Report rips off Ze Frank? For shame, if so.

    [...] Xeni Jardin: [...]

  7. 7 No Fact Zone.Net » The Controversy Rages - Did Stephen Colbert steal a joke from Ze Frank?

    [...] are various links to the story (TVSquad.com, Kleinschmidt) but the link at BoingBoing.net has a quote from Ze himself. Here’s BoingBoing’s [...]

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