Making quantum physics fun again: Hawking the meme and pop culture icon

What do Sheldon Cooper and a black hole have in common? They both suck

hawking-simpsons Stephen Hawking in 'The Simpsons'
"In the infinite universes, is there one where I am smarter than you?" asks John Oliver. "Yes", Hawking shoots back, "and also one where you are funny."

Physicist Stephen Hawking was a man of infinite intelligence, one who made radical contributions in the field of science and technology—his theories of black hole radiation (black holes emit heat and go out of existence) and breakthroughs in quantum physics elevated him to the pedestal of demigods like Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton. He retained his impish sense of humour even after years of relegation to the wheelchair, and slow loss of motor functions, as the deadly Lou Gehrig's Disease (ALS) tore into his physique.

His work was accessible (sample his A Brief History of Time), and with a little help from the robotic tones of the speech synthesiser, the scientist became one of the most meme-fied pop culture icons of a generation (Neil deGrasse Tyson is a close second). His first breakthrough was an appearance in the American television show The Simpsons. In an episode titled They Saved Lisa's Brain, where a Mensa group with exceptionally high IQs takes over Springfield, Hawking makes an appearance. In the episode, a delicious spoof of Plato's Republic and Nietzsche's Ubermensch, Hawking discusses 'donut-shaped earth' theory with Homer. Although nowhere close to the top Simpson's episode, it certainly was a lot of fun.

The scientist occasionally appeared on The Big Bang Theory, a tremendously popular sitcom that explores the lives of four scientists living in Pasadena, California. In the series, Hawking is the hero of the protagonists, especially Sheldon—the high-IQ, unbearably egotistical theoretical physicist who worshipped at Hawking's altar. In this series, he is at his comedic best. “What do Sheldon Cooper and a black hole have in common?” Hawking asks. “They both suck.” After reviewing one of Sheldon's papers on Higgs Boson, he was gleeful: “You made an arithmetic mistake on page two. It was quite the boner.”

In Groening's (creator of The Simpsons) another series, Futurama, Hawking makes appearances as a talking head, and also saving the fabric of space-time continuum along with the (do-gooder) vice president Al Gore.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation, he makes an appearance in a (very nerdy) poker game along with manifestations of Albert Einstein and Isaac Newton.

Pink Floyd's song Keep Talking features samples of Hawking's electronic sound.

And don't forget the very funny instalment of John Oliver's HBO show Last Week Tonight, where Hawking creams the host with brilliant one-liners. "In the infinite universes, is there one where I am smarter than you?" asks Oliver. "Yes," he shoots back, "and also one where you are funny."