Someone I met via Twitter – Delia the Artist – just interviewed me for Current.com. Current has a shorter, edited version of the interview but Delia is hosting the full interview on her own site.
And, oh look! Here comes the full version now…
Where does science meet comedy?
Somewhere in Brian Malow’s universe.
From museums to comedy clubs, Earth’s Premier Science Comedian brings the funny to the hilarious 5th installment of Science is Speaking!
What came first for you, comedy or science?
Ah, the chicken or the egg, eh?… Well, in terms of it being a passion and a potential career choice, science came way before comedy. And I joke that I used to be an astronomer who got stuck on the day shift, but I never became a scientist.
Science was my first love: dream girl, high school sweetheart, prom date. But then I had a long torrid affair with comedy. We ran off and eloped. And it may have appeared to the casual observer that I had completely forgotten about science but, if you looked closely you could see the truth… the heavy bias toward science geeky topics, habitual use of the language of science for analogies and metaphors – a tendency to invoke Newton’s equation for universal gravitation, for instance – or to use “molybdenum” as a punch line.
These were the signs that I would someday come running back to science, if she would have me. But I didn’t want to give up comedy, my mistress. Would I have to? Perhaps not…
Comedy is both a science and an art. And, for that matter, science is both a science and an art!
I’m not sure I can even tell them apart anymore. We apply the same kind of critical thinking in both pursuits – but we also hope for and rely on those flashes of inspiration that come from somewhere beneath the level of conscious thought… like Kekule’s day-dream that helped him solve the riddle of the structure of the benzene molecule.
You know, Einstein once said, “The only real valuable thing is intuition” and the classic, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.”
I know: Easy for you to say, Einstein!
But seriously… it has its surreal side, but my comedy has often emerged from the application of rational thinking to the reality of the human condition. Thus, the name of my first science comedy CD: “Rational Comedy for an Irrational Planet.” I like to think I solve small problems that we didn’t know we had.
You were inspired by science fiction authors whom you say “made it easy to understand and enjoy science” – is this your goal as well?
I was referring specifically to Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke – and to their non-fiction – their science writing. They were early influences on me. I learned more science from Asimov and Clarke than from most of my teachers. And they are still the best explainers, by the way – along with Carl Sagan. They can’t be beat for teaching you complex ideas without losing you – and, in fact, engaging and entertaining you. Their love and passion for science is well-communicated! I implore you to find their old, out-of-print books! Get thee to a used bookstore! (or an internet connection).
Anyway, I never set out with such a noble goal as that. I just wanted to entertain, make people laugh – hopefully, with my own brand of comedy (insert Registered Trademark symbol: ® ).
But I guess there’s always been a little teacher in the 4-chambered classroom of my heart. I can’t help it. A comedy colleague of mine once said that my jokes had more information in them than most comics’ jokes. I think I can take that as a compliment.
And, whatever my initial intentions… now, yes, it has become a goal of mine to clearly and colorfully explain some science concepts – and certainly to show another side of science – that science can be fun as well as mind-blowing. That having this knowledge, this familiarity, this understanding of nature can enrich your life in unexpected ways. Funny ways.
Actually, now I think my science comedy does function rather like science fiction: it may teach you a few new concepts along the way but mostly it aims to entertain you using bits of science as its raw material.
Isaac Asimov once said “The most exciting phrase to hear in science, the one that heralds new discoveries, is not ‘Eureka!’ (I found it!) but ‘That’s funny…’ What discoveries have you made while finding the funny in science?
Well, I discovered many years ago that you shouldn’t say, “You can make me go to my room but you can’t make me go to sleep!” if either of your parents is an anesthesiologist.
And I discovered that science can, indeed, get massive mainstream media coverage as long as there is at least the suggestion that it may destroy the planet (cf. Large Hadron Collider).
Avogadro’s Number is well-known, of course, but I believe I was the first to discover his address.
I discovered that if, instead of asking strangers, “Where are you from?” you make a habit of asking them, “WHEN are you from?” it will improve your chances of tripping up a time-traveling tourist.
I discovered that some people talk to their plants, which is okay. But you shouldn’t ask them a lot of questions.
And I discovered that whenever my mom loses weight, my dad gains weight. And vice versa. It’s like the Conservation of Mass, within our family. My theory: You never actually lose weight – you just give it to somebody else. Fat can be neither created nor destroyed. It’s one of the basic laws of the universe. If you’re gonna live here, you gotta know the laws.
Any advice for upcoming comedians out there?
Don’t try to mix science and comedy! Go find your own ecological niche! Run along!
:: Beats chest, roars, shakes rattle, spreads wings threateningly, generally attempts to appear larger and more intimidating ::
(Objects in State of Fear May Appear Larger Than Actual Size)
Honestly, the best advice I have is to learn how to be yourself. Centuries-old wisdom: to thine own self be true. Watch a lot of comedy. Study those who do it well – and realize you can also learn a lot from those who do it poorly! And don’t limit yourself to comedians! Absorb a broader swath of life than that. But, in the end, don’t let yourself be over-influenced by your influences. Try to be different from everything else you’ve seen. Tap into what is unique about you. Find your own voice. Tell your own stories. In two words: Be yourself.
You’ve entertained the likes of Microsoft, Apple and the National Association of Science Writers – what’s your next move?
I love what I’m doing and it gets more interesting every year. I want to perform at more museums and for more science organizations, events, and festivals. I recently performed in England for the first time and I’m anxious to return and to do other international events.
I’m doing video pieces for Time Magazine’s website (www.time.com), and working on some other television and multimedia projects. I should blog more: www.sciencecomedian.com/blog .
Long-term…. I’d like to be the first comedian with an extended run at an orbital space hotel. Or just a one-nighter on the International Space Station. I’d love to be the in-house comic for the first lunar or Martian colony. I’d even consider a one-way ticket. I should probably start with Virgin Galactic… does anyone know Richard Branson’s email address?
Find out more about Brian Malow and get on his mailing list: email@example.com
See videos and subscribe to Brian’s YouTube Channel: www.youtube.com/sciencecomedian
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