StarTalk Live! Parasites and Poisons at The Bell House

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About This Episode

A strange, and surprisingly funny, brew of poisons, parasites and infectious diseases is on tap at The Bell House in Brooklyn when Neil deGrasse Tyson and Eugene Mirman welcome guests Mark Siddall, the Leech Guy, and comedians H. Jon Benjamin and Jessica Williams. You’ll learn the difference between poison and venom, why magic mushrooms are safer than blowfish sushi, and how plants protect themselves by using cinnamon, vanilla, caffeine and nicotine as insecticides. You’ll also find out more than you might ever want to know about snakes, spiders, tapeworms, pinworms, bedbugs, and the parasites that live in your eyelashes. And that’s before Mark brings up the really scary stuff: Malaria and Ebola, and why mosquitoes and fruit bats aren’t the only things we have to worry about when it comes to protecting ourselves from infectious diseases.

Previously recorded live at The Bell House in Brooklyn, NY.

NOTE: All-Access subscribers can listen to this entire episode commercial-free here: StarTalk Live! Parasites and Poisons at The Bell House.


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    Why not a video podcast?

  • Louis Demella

    Dang that Leech guy was throwing a lot of shade at people instead of explaining anything. Otherwise awesome talent on stage(except leech guy).

    • Fantasick

      Yeah, I’ve been to eight Star Talk Lives, including this show. That poison guy was by far the worst science guest ever. He was so awkward on stage and had some grudge against the comedians. It was disappointing because I love John Benjamin and Jessica Williams and he made them feel super unwelcome which caused them to talk a lot less. He also obstructed the science because every time he would bring up something cool, he would refuse to answer the questions making some stupid offhand quip that fell flat. Neil was visibly embarrassed on stage. Neil kept grabbing his shoulder giving him this look like “dude, what the hell are you doing?”. A very cringe worthy experience but 10/10 will go back to Star Talk Live!

      • I could not begin to disagree more. The StarTalk Live episodes are usually a chore to get through. The comedians, naturally, become more bombastic, loud, and interjecting when on a stage. Class clown-ship comes full force in their utter need to be attended by others. StarTalk is, first and foremost, a science podcast rather than a comedic display. The comedians are meant as the people who ‘fill in the margins.’ In this show they were expertly quelled by a scientist who had a personality to match.

        In Previous Live podcasts I have considered the overall product useless (i.e., I didn’t learn a damn thing). As a scientist, I was happy Dr. Siddall kept the focus. (My lone critique is that the live shows could use a Q&A, either live audience or pre-ordained from online listeners.)

        Great show StarTalk!

        P.S. I am also a fan of each comedian on this show. I appreciated their comments to inject brevity-of-mood.

        • lasersmiles

          I would have been fine with it if he didn’t single out the Daily Show over and over again. Jessica Williams WORKS on that show, and he’s insulting her employer. Felt super personal and embarassing, not to mention pretty disrespectful- when you insult someone publicly who’s not there to defend himself, it’s pretty cowardly.

          • DrE

            In other words he was a good comedian

  • Thomas Baldwin

    How about the very real genetically engineered solution by Oxitec to control specifically the malaria carrying mosquito?

  • anaveragedude

    Is there a reason this guy hates the Daily Show so much?

    • DrE

      Because it’s overrated

  • Zans

    That Leech guys daily show joke just made the top 10 for most awkward moments.

  • A. Lang

    Hated how the leech guy always tried to be funny. There were already 3 comedians in the show! It wasn’t his job to entertain the audience!

  • Alastair Ojeda

    Minute 44: symbiosis is the right word to use not commensalism. NEIL WAS RIGHT!



    interaction between two different organisms living in close physical association, typically to the advantage of both.

    a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups.



    an association between two organisms in which one benefits and the other derives neither benefit nor harm.

  • Chris

    Don’t feel too rejected by the leeches not latching on you, Neil. They also dislike me, the same with ticks. Sometimes I think someone should do a study on why some of us repel certain bloodsuckers.

    Unfortunately, mosquitoes and fleas like to bite me.

    • DrE

      You may have thick skin

  • Mark Siddall sounds like Paul Rudd!

  • ja bre

    jes bre ….

  • Michael Folk

    Great episode, a good book on the subject is “New Guinea Tapeworms and Jewish Grandmothers” , an assigned reading for me in my zoology class.

  • Tipsy

    Yeah I told my mum about Dihydrogen Monoxide and it’s deadliness. Unfortunately she said “Oh yeah, I think I’ve heard of that” in a concerned tone of voice.

  • Zoidberg

    gees why was the leech guy being such a jerk? he was trying to explain stuff and just left it hanging half the time.
    he was rude to the comedians, trying to be unnecessarily funny and being awkward.

  • Chris

    I was listening to this episode while working out at the gym and felt kinda awkward because I was laughing so much. Funny and educational. Thank you Dr. Tyson and the team for another great episode!

  • Chris Brennan

    Is Mark Siddall ok? That was brutal.

  • Evan

    This is the last episode I have listened to, can anyone please explain why Chuck and Star Talk Radio are still shilling a homeopathic ripoff? Am I the only person who finds this so disturbing?

    • KrisK

      The past few episodes have used this sponsor. I agree it is disturbing.
      I kinda want to ask Neil on his next Q&A show what exactly is “the power of oxygen” and how does it cure me?

      • Evan

        That is a great idea!

  • stefan

    I usually really enjoy this podcast, but this one was very disappointing. None of the raised questions got really answered. Instead we had lot’s of people trying to be clever and funny. I listen to Star Talk because I enjoy the science discussions. There wasn’t much of that here (if any). Also I am rather disturbed by the latest sponsors for this show. I understand that money has to come from somewhere, but I believe that certain principles should apply. Next we will hear adverts from a creationist museum. Listening back at older podcasts I feel this series has lost it’s way a bit.

  • Alpha666

    Brilliant show! Loved the panel. Keep up the great work.

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