Kornbluth ’80 to perform comic monologue on math and failure

Josh Kornbluth ’80′s monologue covers a series of failures from his undergraduate days. (Photo: Courtesy Josh Kornbluth)
Josh Kornbluth ’80’s upcoming performance of “The Mathematics of Change: A Comic Monologue About Failure at Princeton” may be the most unusual event in this year’s public lecture series. Borrowing from the language of math, the comedian says, “It approaches the limit of what might be the most ridiculous lecture that the math department could be sponsoring.”
Kornbluth will speak about the missteps of his undergraduate days, including his struggle to cope with freshman calculus, a tough pill to swallow for the son of a middle-school math teacher. The monologue, to be performed at 8 p.m. on April 5 in McCosh 50, also deals with setbacks outside the classroom, from the undergraduate swimming test to a series of memorably odd work-study jobs.
This is the first Princeton performance for Kornbluth, who has been creating autobiographical monologues since 1989. In fact, he said that he has not seen the campus since 1980, when he left without his degree after failing to complete his senior thesis. (Kornbluth wrote a PAW essay about his new thesis in 2007, and he’s working to complete the politics department’s thesis requirements.)  
“The Mathematics of Change” began as a series of improvisations and evolved into a presentation that looks very much like a math lecture, complete with formulas scribbled on blackboards. He’s working on a film of the monologue, drawn from a performance at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute in Berkeley, Calif. (See video excerpt below.)

“You don’t have to be a mathematician or love math to enjoy the piece,” Kornbluth says. In fact, his strongest responses have come from both ends of the spectrum: those who love math and those who fear it. (For the record, Kornbluth puts himself in the former group.)
In the show, Kornbluth covers fear, anxiety, the pressure to succeed, and failure – topics familiar to college students past and present. “Failure is a great subject for comedy,” he says. “When you’re successful, it’s just not that funny.”
Video: From “The Mathematics of Change”