Road Runner is funny because he breaks the laws (of physics)

by Deb on March 5, 2012

Road Runner breaks the rules.

While researching this post (watching cartoons on YouTube) I discovered that Road Runner cartoons are from the 60s – a lot older than I thought. Which shows that some things are timeless, especially what makes us laugh.

Road Runner is funny because it breaks the rules.

When people watch something like Road Runner they always laugh in the same places – something happens that you know is impossible. And that’s because you know Physics. Called the Queen of Sciences by some (physicists) and hated and feared by others (the rest of us), physics is the science of how the world around you works. Which means it’s something we all know and understand, even if we can’t get the sums to work out prettily.


And that is what Road Runner cartoons rely on. You may not remember that gravity is an acceleration of 9.8m/s/s at the earth’s surface, or that it is dependent on the mass of two objects and how far apart they are. You might not even have heard of Einstein’s version, where gravity is a curve or depression in four dimensional space-time. But you know that the road runner should be falling down, not the coyote.

And Newton’s 3 laws of motion:

  1. An object at rest or in constant motion will remain at rest or in constant motion unless acted upon by a force.
  2. Acceleration is proportional to force and inversely proportional to mass (F=ma).
  3. Every action produces an equal and opposite reaction.

That’s some fancy and confusing language, but how about:

  1. Things don’t move (or stop) unless something makes them.
  2. Heavier things are harder to get going.
  3. Things push back.

When you watch a road runner cartoon, you know the heavy rock shouldn’t move (2). You know the bow should fire (1). You know the wires should break (3). And things should always happen the same way because it’s the law.

Little kids can’t work out parabolic motion, displacement and velocity, but they can still catch the ball. The trick is remembering that when there are numbers and symbols involved.

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