The auditorium was packed. They had to turn people away. The famous Dr. Frederick was speaking today. The MC paced nervously backstage. The roar of the audience was intimidating.
How many people were there? What would that look like? Maybe he should peek and see so that he could mentally prepare. He took a deep breath and peeked around the edge of the curtain.
The auditorium hushed and everyone was looking at him. The MC ducked back behind the curtain, and the noise started up again. That was embarrassing. His face felt hot.
“So, were there a lot of people out there?” a voice said. The MC turned around. It was Dr. Frederick.
He rushed forward to shake the doctor’s hand. “Hi, my name is John, and I’m the MC today. I am a huge fan of your work,” he said.
“Thank you,” Dr. Frederick said. “I can see that you are nervous. Are you not used to speaking in front of large crowds?”
“Not really,” John said. “Usually not very many people come to these lectures.”
“It helps to think about something else,” Dr. Frederick said. “If you are thinking more about something else than the crowd, then it isn’t as scary.”
“How can you forget about a crowd that big? When they were all staring at me, I felt like I could barely move,” John said.
“I have an idea,” Dr. Frederick said. “I have a new scientific theory I’ve been working on. I’ll announce it today for the very first time as part of my lecture.”
“Really?” John forgot all about the crowd. A new theory from Dr. Frederick? “What an honor,” John said. “Thank you, sir.”
John rushed out, a few minutes early. The room was silent, once again. “Dr. Frederick is going to announce a new theory today,” he blurted out. “Isn’t that amazing?”
He pulled out his notes, and read through them at double speed. Everyone knew who Dr. Frederick was anyway. Why waste time? Everyone wanted to hear Dr. Frederick speak, the sooner the better.
The applause was thunderous as Dr. Frederick walked up to the podium and there was a burst of camera flashes that went off like fireworks. Then he set his papers down and the room was silent. John stood at the edge of the stage, not willing to go back behind the curtain and miss this historic moment.
“Thank you for coming to hear me speak,” Dr. Frederick said. “I am delighted to share with you today my newest scientific theory.” He paused, and the audience waited expectantly, leaning forward in their seats.
“The galaxy is actually a giant game of marbles. Right now, the kids are inside eating dinner, but when they’re done and return, expect many more big bangs to occur in rapid succession.”
John almost laughed. How clever of Dr. Frederick to prepare a joke as an icebreaker. Then he looked around. Everyone was nodding and taking notes. There was a low murmur of voices. No one was laughing. Was he serious?
“Now on to my prepared lecture on the resting state of antimatter.” The murmurs stopped and Dr. Frederick continued his lecture. It was highly technical and didn’t sound at all like a joke. At the end, the crowd gave him a standing ovation that went on and on. Dr. Frederick waved and crossed the stage to duck behind the curtain.
John thanked the audience for coming, read out a few announcements and reminders and then hurried behind the curtain to find the doctor. Dr. Frederick was buttoning his coat when John found him.
“Were you serious about the game of marbles?” he asked.
“Of course not,” Dr. Frederick said.
“So it was a joke?”
“Yes. Were you nervous?” Dr. Frederick asked.
John had forgotten all about being nervous. “I guess not,” he said. “Thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” Dr. Frederick said.
The next day, Dr. Frederick’s new theory was in all the newspapers. Scientists debated it for the next decade. Eventually, it led to new discoveries and a rather strange Broadway musical. John never told anybody it was just a joke. Neither did Dr. Frederick.