Laughing With Science

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Comedy is a science. Or is it science is a comedy? It depends on who you ask, really. For Brian Malow or Tim Lee, the answer might be “both.” These two scientists-turned-comedians found their funny bones after their science educations and turned to stand-up comedy as new professions. Malow, a former astronomist, bases his standup on science history and facts, like Alfred Nobel’s dynamite connection to the Nobel Prize or a science flub in Star Wars. On a scale starting at “no science knowledge needed” to “need to be a scientist,” his comedy ranges toward the “need to be a scientist” side, as his material is sometimes based on very specific science knowledge. Lee, a former biologist, skews closer to the “no science knowledge needed” side through his combination of PowerPoint presentations full of science knowledge and hilarious charts.

Then there’s Dat Phan, the first winner of the comedy competition show Last Comic Standing, who will probably tell you comedy is a science. Dat Phan’s comedy routine does not incorporate science, but he has an unusual way of putting together his set: graphs and charts. Dat Phan records information for each of his jokes to dissect which ones work and how they work. “I analyze where the beats are, the wording and how many syllables,” he explained. “Movies are never done without storyboards, timelines, formulas, and equations. They are engineered for success. James Cameron did not make Avatar without a plan!” Good point, Phan. 

What do you think? Is comedy a science or science a comedy? Or both?

The statements and opinions expressed in this piece are those of the event participants and do not necessarily reflect the views of any organization or agency that provided support for this event or of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.