Scientists can get a bad—or boring—rap, but who knew they could be funny? Apparently, the founders of the Peer Revue, a stand-up comedy show by scientists, for everyone. Based on the STEM fields—science, technology, engineering, math—the show started in early 2016 as the brainchild of Colorado Springs locals Kyle Sanders and Niki Spahich. The founders of the program wanted to make science more approachable to the public and decided humor was the key.
Great idea, but is it really, you know, funny? I attended a sold-out show this January at the Ivywild School. Not only did I laugh, but I also learned a thing or two as well. To find out more about the science beyond the stage, I spoke with Ilea Heft, a geneticist in the Springs and a performer and producer for the Peer Revue.
Springs: How and why did this idea of pairing science and stand-up come about?
Ilea Heft: One of the founders, Kyle Sanders, met several comedians from the U.K. at a science convention who told him about an event called Bright Club where researchers perform stand-up comedy about their backgrounds for general audiences. He thought it was a great idea and decided to start The Peer Revue. It turns out that humor is a great way to humanize scientists. Studies show if there is a difficult topic and you present it through humor, the audience is more receptive to your message. If I had said, “Hey, you want to come listen to a talk about non-Euclidian geometry?” you probably wouldn’t have been interested. But you go to the show and you’re laughing and having a good time, and you gain a greater enthusiasm for science while you’re there.
That is true. You think about comedians, and they use humor to talk about all kinds of topics, from race to politics.
Right. You can say things in comedy and get people on your side you couldn’t otherwise, or at least get people enthusiastic about a topic. Our end goal isn’t that you become a scientist yourself—though that would certainly be cool if it happened. The mission is to generate public enthusiasm for science. We are mainly trying to get people excited about science and humanize scientists as well.
Tell me how you got involved with the Peer Revue?
I went to the show as an audience member in the summer of 2016. They had ads saying, “Hey, if you’re a scientist and this looks like fun, sign up to give it a try.” I signed up as a performer and performed in the September and November shows in 2016, then took over as the producer for Colorado Springs in January 2017.
What was your experience going through the workshops as a performer?
We do three workshops about a month out from the show. The first workshop we play improv comedy games. The point of them is to get comfortable being silly and getting out of your normal scientist shell. As scientists, we always want to explain things in accurate technical terms. The improv games get you comfortable with ad-libbing and improvising. The second workshop teaches microphone techniques and trying out ideas for the sets. The third workshop is the dry run where the performers try out their material and get feedback. We provide many additional opportunities for practice and feedback and provide all of the support and guidance necessary for the performers to have a great set.
So what should people expect?
We usually have 6 to 8 scientist-comedians who each perform a stand-up comedy routine about their backgrounds and we often have a headlining act as well. With the exception of special encore shows, we generally have a brand new line-up of science-comedians at each show. The backgrounds of our performs are quite diverse, but the comedy is tailored to be funny to a general audience—no scientific background required!
Can you give us a funny joke?
It is really hard to pick out just one line from a stand-up comedy routine. I recommend coming to a show to see for yourself!
Catch the Peer Revue Live
But buy your tickets ahead. The shows usually sell out.
March 3 at the Space Foundation, 7:30 p.m.
Peer Revue (all new line-up)
April 14 at Ivywild School, 8 p.m.
Get tickets and more info at peer-revue.com