History of Science and Comedy

When was the last time you got to see historians of science and comedians on the same stage together? For that matter, when was the last time you saw historians of science on stage? Come this Thursday to Life, Sex, Death (and Food): A Historical Look at the Science that Drives Us and laugh with (or at) local historians of science and local comedians as they try to make the history of science engaging.

I am really excited about this event because I see it as a great chance to bring history of science to a broader audience and to make history of science interesting. Events like Life, Sex, Death (and Food) offer one way to combat the professional boredom that has attracted considerable comment lately. It can be uncomfortable because it challenges historians to give up some control over their material. But I think the payoff is worth the effort.

From last year’s event, “It Seemed Right at the Time”

Last year’s show, It Seemed Right at the Time, was a great program that featured a dramatic reading from Darwin’s Origin of Species, a mesmerizing introduction to, well, mesmerism, Benjamin Rush (okay, just an impersonator) and his miracle cure for Yellow Fever, fire-breathing ancient robots and medieval robots that “soaked the ladies from below,” witches and all things witchy, and an astrological explanation for the Frenchiness of Frenchmen. This year’s show promises to be as good as last year’s.

One cast of characters from this year’s “Life, Sex, Death (and Food).”

I am taking part again this year. Also returning are Elly Truit from Bryn Mawr College (see her Medieval Robots blog), and Michael Yudell from Drexel University (he contributes regularly to The Public’s Health, a blog at Joining us is Karen Reeds (she recently curated a show Botanica Magnifica at the New Jersey State Museum). Once again the Philly Improv Theater is supplying the comedians. This year I get to work with Secret Pants. We spent a recent Saturday preparing for our skit. All of this is made possible thanks to the efforts of the Philadelphia Area Center for the History of Science.

I want to join Michael Yudell in urging you to Join Us at the Philadelphia Science Festival. Turn up and see historians of science out of their element—on stage speaking to a public that chose to be there rather than a captive set of students. Or, as one of the comedians put it, come watch really funny people mocking academics.

The Philadelphia Science Festival runs from 21-29 April.

Life, Sex, Death (and Food) is part of the Philadelphia Science Festival, which started yesterday and runs until next Sunday. See the full calendar for a list of more than 100 events for all ages.
[A slightly different version of this post is here.]