Museum hires funny man to translate science

jstancill@newsobserver.com March 31, 2012 

Malow

  • Science laughs Brian Malow’s science comedy, from excerpts on YouTube: • “With all things, we must ask do the benefits outweigh the costs. And then we have to ask were the benefits weighed on Jupiter and the costs on Mars, cause that’s how they get you sometimes. You have to pay attention to the small print. And what if they use nanotechnology to create the small print, then what? Is that fair, really? Isn’t that a little too fine?” • “I haven’t always been a comic. I used to be an astronomer but I got stuck on the day shift, which sucks. You don’t discover anything good.” • “A virus walks into a bar. The bartender says, ‘We don’t serve viruses in this bar.’ The virus replaces the bartender and says, ’Now we do.’ An infectious disease walks into a bar. The bartender says, ‘We don’t serve infectious diseases in this bar.’ The infectious disease says, ‘Well, you’re not a very good host.’ Two bacteria walk into a bar. The bartender says, ‘We don’t serve bacteria in this bar.’ The bacteria say, ‘But we work here. We’re staph.’ ”

— How comical is a chemical? How funny is fusion? How often do you find hilarity in gravity?

If you’re Brian Malow, the answer is very.

Malow is known as “earth’s premier science comedian,” a title he admits he made up. But he has a national following as a stand-up comic with a special, geeky side, and he’s moving to Raleigh to become curator of the Daily Planet, the big globe taking shape on the new wing of the N.C. Museum of Natural Sciences.

The hiring of Malow, 49, who lives in San Francisco, is something of a coup for the museum, which opens its new Nature Research Center on April 20. On Friday, he was a guest on Science Friday, the National Public Radio show.

“He’s really a gifted science communicator and a terrific bridge between scientists and the public,” said David Kroll, director of science communications for the museum. “He makes being a nerd fun.”

Malow was interested in science before he became a stand-up comic, he said Friday in a telephone interview from San Francisco. As he developed his comedy routine, science kept creeping into the act. When he performed in front of conferences of engineers or Silicon Valley tech companies, he got a warm reception.

So at some point along the way, he billed himself as a science comedian and never looked back. But he’s not only about laughs. As a freelancer, he shoots science videos for Time Magazine and photographs insects on the side. He has a website called www.insectpaparazzi.com.

And now he will be the emcee for science programs at the Nature Research Center’s Daily Planet, the three-story, high-definition theater.

“It’s incredible,” he said about his new gig. “I’m really excited.”

Malow said he feels a responsibility to inform, as well as entertain.

“I don’t think of science as dry or boring at all,” he said. “I find so many aspects of so many different parts of it really fun and cool, and I think I convey that pretty well, too. That’s part of what my job is, to show how fun and fascinating it all is.”

Stancill: 919-829-4559

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