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The Actuary The magazine of the Institute & Faculty of Actuaries

Christmas comes but once a year

I have been trying desperately to come up with some festive silliness for the student page for this month. Actuarial jokes seemed a good theme, but then not many of them are terribly funny are they? One of the best I’ve heard to date is:

Q What’s the difference between God and an Actuary?

A God doesn’t think he’s an Actuary!

OK, so it’s not roll-around-on-the-floor-laugh-until-your-tummy-hurts funny but it’s not bad as they go, and I thought it might raise a small titter. Please note: I’ve just tried this joke out on ‘him indoors’ and it caused not so much as a snigger. This is the man whose favourite (printable) joke is:

Two members of the French foreign legion were lost in the desert, desperate for water and food. Finally they come across a market town full of stalls. They walked around the stalls and quickly realised that they were all selling a pudding made out of sponge, fruit jelly, custard, and cream. Perplexed, they stopped one of the locals to ask what was going on. ‘Well, it is a trifle bazaar!’ (I know it’s terrible but it helps to put the badness of actuarial jokes in context.) So why is it that actuarial jokes are not very funny? Is it because it’s difficult to laugh at one’s chosen career path, or because actuaries are just fundamentally un-funny? Are we really that strait-laced? I think it’s probably a bad state of affairs if we can’t laugh at ourselves every once in a while. I think we could all say that we know a few people whom we might class as ‘stereotypical’ actuaries, but I also like to think that most of the people I have met in my short time as a member of the profession do not fit the traditionally held view of what an actuary is like. But even the ‘traditionally held view’ can be elusive. In my experience you’re lucky to find someone who knows what an actuary is. On being asked what I do I always say ‘trainee actuary’. I usually get one of three responses:

‘… (insert uncomfortable silence)’ (never too sure if these people know what an actuary is); ‘An actress – how glamorous’ (I have been tempted to let this one go and just pretend that I’m an extra in Coronation Street); ‘An actuary – what do they do?’. I then have to do my well-rehearsed spiel about ‘making financial sense of the future’, ‘assets’, and ‘liabilities’ to my confused audience. As such, you’re unlikely to bring your best actuarial joke out at the next Christmas party you go to. It’s not very dignified to sit there laughing at your own joke while everyone else is looking at each other with blank faces.Another one of my favourite jokes is:

Q How many actuaries does it take to change a light bulb?

A How many did it take last year?

Amusing – not least because it’s so true. But then would anyone outside the profession understand it? I’m not sure it’s one you could pull out of your Christmas cracker and have everyone chuckling away at over the turkey.

My Christmas day will be spent with, among others, my very deaf granddad. By the time I’ve shouted that last joke and the explanation loudly and slowly enough for him to hear, I think it may have lost any comedy potential it ever had. One for the office, or any other place where only actuaries reside, methinks.

Here’s another:

A farmer asks an actuary to count his sheep, and the actuary very quickly replies ‘1,007’ – ‘How did you count them so quickly?’ ‘Well, there are roughly a thousand in those fields over there, and seven in this field here’. My favourite actuary joke of all (an oldie but a goodie):

Q What’s the difference between an actuary and an accountant?

A An actuary does much the same thing as an accountant but lacks the accountant’s bright and vivacious personality.

There – it’s not so difficult to laugh at oneself now is it? Just for the record, this one did register a laugh from him indoors.

I shall bid you adieu until 2005. I hope you all have a fantastic Christmas whether you choose to celebrate it or not. It is, if nothing else, a good excuse to have a few well-earned days off from work and study. I am looking forward to it with the anticipation of a small child. I can’t wait to dust off the Christmas tree and decorations.

Deck the halls with boughs of holly, tra-la-la-la-laaaa la-la-la-la...