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Comedy Meets Academic Research In 'Stand Up Science'

Photo by Tyler Ross
Comedian Shane Mauss visits with his Stand Up Science tour.

It started with TV animal shows. Watching them left comedian Shane Mauss with a lot of questions. So he started emailing scientists.

“Turns out, nobody does that,” quips Mauss. “They [wrote] me right back, and I got to know all these academics.”

Such exchanges led to his long-running podcast Here We Are, on which Mauss interviews researchers and academics. The podcast just marked its 200th episode of discussing the science behind “day-to-day stuff,” mostly things like psychology, behavioral economics, mating behavior, spending, and child development. Anything to do with what humans or animals do is fair game.

Mauss is a veteran comic who’s made the rounds of Comedy Central, Showtime, “Conan” and “Jimmy Kimmel Live.” With the podcast going strong, the next logical step was to take a spinoff on the road. If the setup is “two scientists and two comedians walk into a bar,” the 40-city Stand Up Science tour provides the punchline. The tour hits Club Café, on the South Side, Monday.

“It’s exactly 50 percent comedy and 50 percent science, so it’s a nice mix,” says Mauss, speaking by phone from the road in Cincinnati. “So think of a TED Talk and then a comedy set, TED Talk, comedy set.”

The first comedy set is a science-themed 15 minutes by Mauss, who’s partial to bits about things like bee sex (the males’ testes “explode” during intercourse!) and satirical riffs on ADHD (with which he’s been diagnosed). “You never hear about an ‘overfocus disorder,’” he says. “There’s never been a parent-teacher conference where someone comes in, and they’re like, ‘Yeah, we gotta talk about your kid, they’re hanging on my every word … I’m a little worried, there’s no signs of creativity, no divergent thinking.’”

The second comedy set is by locally based comedian John Evans, who has his own credits on Comedy Central, NBC’s “Last Comic Standing,” and radio’s nationally syndicated “Bob and Tom Show.”

The locally based scientists are economist George Loewenstein, whose areas of study include impulse buying, and Morgan Wirthlin, who researches the evolution of speech and the links between birdsong and human speech.

Mauss says that in Stand Up Science, it’s the comics’ job to be funny, the scientists’ to inform. But he notes that researchers who are also educators are often themselves pretty good at holding an audience. And he says that science and comedy are more similar than some people imagine.

“Most of what comedians are doing is relatively the same as what scientists are doing,” he says. “For ages, comedians have been, ‘Have you ever noticed this and that?’ And that’s what science is doing as well, is taking these observations and studying them. So both comedians and scientists are using their own ways and their own tool box to get down to their truth of what life is about.”

Ticket information is here.

Bill is a long-time Pittsburgh-based journalist specializing in the arts and the environment. Previous to working at WESA, he spent 21 years at the weekly Pittsburgh City Paper, the last 14 as Arts & Entertainment editor. He is a graduate of Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism and in 30-plus years as a journalist has freelanced for publications including In Pittsburgh, The Nation, E: The Environmental Magazine, American Theatre, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bill has earned numerous Golden Quill awards from the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania. He lives in the neighborhood of Manchester, and he once milked a goat. Email:
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