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Commentary
12/21/2008
11:47 AM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
Commentary
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Bill Gates: Telling Him A Joke But Butchering The Punch Line

The Comdex keynote crowd of 20,000 roared as Bill Gates, besieged by the Justice Department, called out brazenly, "Anybody out there know a good lawyer joke?" So the next morning at a private meeting with Gates, I said hello and then -- against my better judgment -- asked, "Still looking for a good lawyer joke?" Bill hesitated a second and then said sure, go ahead -- and moments later I went down in flames as I told the joke but butchered the punch line.

The Comdex keynote crowd of 20,000 roared as Bill Gates, besieged by the Justice Department, called out brazenly, "Anybody out there know a good lawyer joke?" So the next morning at a private meeting with Gates, I said hello and then -- against my better judgment -- asked, "Still looking for a good lawyer joke?" Bill hesitated a second and then said sure, go ahead -- and moments later I went down in flames as I told the joke but butchered the punch line.From the time I walked into his suite, one voice inside my head was screaming, "Whatever you do, DON'T tell that joke!" But the other inner voice was purring, "Oh, go ahead, it's a great joke -- he'll like it, and he'll think you're clever, and it'll make the interview go even better." So here's the joke in its butchered form as told by me to Bill Gates, at the time one of the world's most powerful businesspeople, influential thinkers, wealthiest men, and sought-after interview subjects. (And while it pains me to do so, I should probably mention this would prove to be the last private meeting I ever had with him.)

"So medical-research labs have started using lawyers instead of rats in their experiments, and there are three reasons for this: first, the population of lawyers is now much larger than the population of rats; second, the researchers found that while the lab technicians often formed emotional connections with the lawyers, there was no chance they would do so with the rats; and third, there are some things that even a lawyer won't do."

As I finished, I didn't even need to see the puzzled/annoyed look on Bill's face to realize in full and undiluted horror that I'd ruined the joke by mistakenly using, in reasons two and three, the word "lawyers" instead of "rats," rendering the joke completely humorless and rendering me, well, somewhere between a fool and an ass.

Flashing a hint of a decidedly nonhumorous grin, Bill flicked his eyebrows up in the air momentarily with a sigh and waved me toward a chair, saying, "Well, that was some joke. So what are we here to talk about?"

Well, the truth is, I don't remember much after that. But I'm going to keep trying, and in a column later this week (after undergoing 48 hours of intense psychotherapy) I'll offer up some other recollections of Bill Gates, the most extraordinary personality I've ever encountered.

In the meantime, if you've made it this far, you'll be sure to enjoy a handful of penetrating insights into Bill Gates from my colleague John Foley in "Bill Gates Revealed: A Few Things You Didn't Know."

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