How does the "Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop..." joke work?



On YouTube, there's that famous joke the Dalai Lama didn't understand — and neither did I. It even made headlines in my part of the world, and on some of the sites I frequent, yet nobody ever bothered to explain it. I am at a loss. I suppose pretty much every non-native speaker will have trouble getting it.

The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop and says "can you make me one with everything?"

Is this some sort of pun? Double-entendre? A top-voted comment on YouTube says, "The joke is based on ambiguities of an expression, not the ideal joke to crack with a foreigner." Well, duh. Thanks for nothing. I looked up every single word of it in several dictionaries, including can, shop, one, make, with, walk, and each of these has a multitude of meanings, and I have no idea how they work together to create something funny.


Posted 2013-01-24T10:39:19.820

Reputation: 3 898

96After he received the pizza, he waited. "Where's my change?" "Ah, change comes from within." – TRiG – 2013-02-02T06:01:57.143


If you felt bad about not understanding this joke at first, don't worry: The Dalai Lama didn't get it the first time, either.

– asfallows – 2014-05-23T21:02:22.787



This is indeed a pun.

To make someone something can mean "to create something for someone", as in, I made her a sandwich. But it can also mean "to change someone into some thing or state", as in, I made her angry; Zeus made her (into) a cow.

To be one with something is a spiritual expression meaning...something spiritual. When people say they are one with the universe, they mean they experience some sort of supernatural bond with the entire universe. Don't ask me how it works. Here everything is equivalent to the universe. This is known as nondualism. The Dalai Lama is known for his spirituality.

But one can also stand for one pizza, as in can you make me one [pizza] with [all available toppings]: everything means "every topping/ingredient you have that you can put on a pizza".


Posted 2013-01-24T10:39:19.820

Reputation: 4 420

3“Don't ask me how it works.” If I may offer a partial answer instead: “to be one with something” isn’t exclusively spiritual, though it’s most common in that context, and isn’t an unanalysable idiom. “He is one with X” means, like “he and X are one”, that he and X are in some sense (usually metaphorical) a single entity. Compare phrases like “two hearts that beat as one”. Grammatically, it’s roughly analogous to a more prosaic construction like “How many will you be for dinner tonight?” “Well, there are us three, so then with my husband, we’re four.” – PLL – 2016-01-24T13:36:32.420

1Haha, nice to see you again, and about such a subject. Indeed, to be one with someone clearly describes a close psychological bond. (But even that is somewhat vague and strongly metaphorical, and it probably originates in a notion of souls and inexplicable conexions.) Now, if you're one with the universe, you experience a strong metaphorical bond with e.g. galaxies too far away to have any notion of, and with Napoleon's bones, and even with yourself. I still don't know how that's supposed to work... – Cerberus – 2016-01-24T16:19:16.263

1... Your more prosaïc construction is indeed no different from being one with a person, but it cannot explain the distant galaxies. – Cerberus – 2016-01-24T16:19:23.103

1As a non native speaker who missed the joke too, I had to read your second paragraph several times before being able to grasp it. Telling "to be one with something is a spiritual expression meaning... something spiritual" doesn't help much. It would have been much clearer if "can you make me" had been stated not to mean the expression usually expected in a restaurant "can you prepare that dish for me" but more something like "can you turn myself into". – jlliagre – 2016-12-30T10:04:12.500

@jlliagre I have added a link to the wikipedia page on nondualism. That may help you understand the spiritual part, or you could look for an equivalent word in your native language. – bdsl – 2016-12-31T16:22:58.993

1@bdsl Thanks but you focus on explaining the expression "to be one with something" which is easily understandable and almost word by word translatable in many language while the real issue with this sentence is due the polysemy of the expression "to make me". (French me faire vs faire de moi, Spanish hacerme vs hacer de mí/convertirme en.) – jlliagre – 2016-12-31T16:38:59.620



So, if you look at the statement again, the Dalai Lama asks them to "make him one with everything". So this is indeed a pun.
Read one way, it seems as if he is asking the pizza shop to give him spiritual enlightenment.
While, in reality, he may be asking for a pizza with every topping.

Not a good joke.

Although to me that joke is hilarious, it is not a good joke in the universal sense. Most jokes require a certain background, a certain experience.
But this one requires too many.

For this one, (i) you must have encountered the Buddhist idea of merging or unifying with the universe, expressed using the idiom become one with (which in other contexts is not common); and (ii) you must have encountered pizza in the American style, with loads of different topping choices, ordered using a preposition phrase headed by with (as in "with pepperoni and mushroom"); and (iii) you must have been in a pizzeria that has as one of the choices on its menu the indecisive glutton's non-choice consisting of a megacombo of all available toppings (by no means all pizza restaurants give you that option), so that "everything" is a possible topping choice.


Posted 2013-01-24T10:39:19.820

Reputation: 1 428

1I heard it as a burger bar, where making it with 'everything' is a slightly saner thing to do, since it only applies to the optional garnishes - cheese, bacon, onions, pickles etc, which may be combined to a palatable whole. (and does not imply a veggie burger and fried chicken should be added as well) – Alex Brown – 2015-11-18T22:36:40.207

4I disagree that (i) and (iii) are essential. Even if you knew nothing about Buddhist theology, you might still recognize "Make me one with everything." as a statement that is generally in the spirit of Buddhism. And even if you had never visited a pizzeria with an 'everything' pizza on the menu (I'm not sure I have), it isn't a huge leap to understand what the other meaning is. Probably more difficult for non-native speakers, though. – John Gowers – 2016-01-25T17:34:18.183

7Not a good joke? Who cares? The point of the question was to understand how the joke worked. The listener will decide if it's good. In any case, the context plays a huge part as well; telling this joke to the Dali Lama himself adds to the humor. – Jeff Allen – 2013-02-07T08:37:24.553

56I think it's a very good joke, just one that requires some background information. It's not unlike the line, "A priest, a rabbi, and a nun all walk into a bar, and the bartender says, ‘What is this – some kind of joke?’" which requires the listener knows there are several jokes that begin with "A priest, a rabbi, and a nun [or some similar trio] walk into a bar..." – J.R. – 2013-01-24T11:09:16.673

1Well, I agree, but the thing is, that the Dalai Lama himself and many other viewers did not understand it. – Siddhartha – 2013-02-09T08:24:44.867


It can be read as: can you make me one pizza with every topping on it.

Or: can you give me a spiritual connection with everything within the universe.

Being "one" with something means that you are connected to it in a spiritual sense.

Can you make me "one" with "everything".

The dalai lama is an extremely spiritual public figure, who has made a life journey towards enlightenment and becoming "one" with the universe.( as in the joke)

jon hallman

Posted 2013-01-24T10:39:19.820

Reputation: 151


An addition to the previous answers:

The Dalai Lama walks into a pizza shop and says "can you make me one with everything?"

Actually, this is only half of the joke. The rest of it comes with the seller's reply when the Dalai Lama, seeing his fifty dollar banknote been pocketed by the seller, asks him for change:

"Change comes from within."

Here, the wordplay is based on the different meanings of the word "change":

a) the money that is returned to someone who has paid for something that costs less than the amount that they gave;

b) the result of something becoming different (in the context of Buddhism — positively different).

In this regard, the seller's reply matches the adage known to every follower of Buddhist religion:

"A genuine change must first come from within the individual, only then can he or she attempt to make a significant contribution to humanity" (the link).


Posted 2013-01-24T10:39:19.820

Reputation: 6 166


Yes it's a pun on make me one with everything.

The Dalai Lama has spent his whole life in the pursuit of oneness with himself and the universe, yet here he is asking a humble pizza restaurant to do it for him: can you make me one with everything?

He is of course referring to a pizza with all the toppings, rather than any spiritual oneness.


Posted 2013-01-24T10:39:19.820

Reputation: 724