November 11, 2015 9:56 pm

This Friday, find out why Neil deGrasse Tyson says “The Universe Is Fricking Hilarious.”

Photo of Larry Wilmore, host of The Nightly Show, and Neil deGrasse Tyson, host of StarTalk Radio.

Larry Wilmore and Neil deGrasse Tyson. Photo Credit: The National Geographic Channel.

From the very beginning, comedy has been a basic factor in the StarTalk Radio formula. We have had a comic co-host on the vast majority of our episodes – and Eugene Mirman has co-hosted every one of our StarTalk Live! performances.

Whenever we have a comedian as a guest on the show, from our first, Stephen Colbert in Season 1, Episode 8, until this Friday’s podcast, when our guest is The Nightly Show’s host, Larry Wilmore, Neil finds a way to ask them a variation on the following question: “Is there a science to comedy?”

There has been a surprising lack of consistency in the answers, suggesting that, perhaps, there is no single “formula” for funny.

What there is, at least according to this week’s guest Professor Scott Weems, cognitive neuroscientist and author of Ha! The Science of When We Laugh and Why, is art. Scott explains that nobody is born funny. It takes, to coin that well-trod phrase, “practice, practice, practice, practice, practice.” (Too many practices? Listen to the episode for an explanation.)

There may not be an agreed upon formula, but that doesn’t stop comic co-host Eugene Mirman from explaining how comedians employ the experimental method to hone their acts. Larry Wilmore explains how comedy is all about math, and how Jerry Seinfeld worked hard to use the correct number of words in his very precise humor. Scott explains that we’re not the only species that laughs: apes laugh, dogs laugh, and even rats laugh. (Again, you’ll have to listen to the show to get the details on that one.)

Even Bill Nye gets in on the act – you’ll hear excerpts from his comedy improv, “Sharing Science through Comedy.” (Two creationists walk into a travel agency…) Of course, Bill is no stranger to comedy. He got his start as a stand up comedian.

If that’s not enough, Andy Weir, the author of The Martian, calls in to discuss the use of comedy in science fiction, in his book and the movie based on it starring Matt Damon.

There’s more to the show than just a discussion of comedy, though. Because the other big theme that runs through all of StarTalk is when Neil searches for the “inner geek” in our guests.

He usually finds it, and in Larry Wilmore’s case, it wasn’t too hard. Not only do Larry and Neil get deeply geeky over Star Trek and Star Wars, warp drive vs. hyperspace, and Kirk vs. Picard, but also it turns out that Larry is a magician – and, from the sound of Neil’s reaction, a pretty good one. The two geeks discuss life on Mars, panspermia, Isaac Newton, and Pluto, and Larry suggests a theory that explains why some people find it hard to believe we ever actually landed on the moon.

Before you listen to the show, I feel it is my duty to warn you of a point that Professor Weems makes during the show: people with a good sense of humor tend to die 4-5 years earlier than people without.

So don’t laugh to hard when you listen. You never know what might happen. (It is Friday the 13th, after all!)

Join us for Exploring Science and Comedy with Larry Wilmore this Friday, November 13 at 7:00 PM EST on our website, iTunes Podcasts, Stitcher, TuneIn and SoundCloud.

That’s it for now. Keep Looking Up.
–Jeffrey Simons