Comedian Shane Mauss talks comedy, science, upcoming show

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Shane Mauss: Stand Up Science

The Mill — Friday, Feb. 1 at 8 p.m.

Shane Mauss returns to Iowa City on Feb. 1. — Bruce Smith

Shane Mauss, comedian and host of the Here We Are podcast, will bring his intellectually stimulating, laugh-out-loud hybrid act Stand Up Science to the Mill on Friday, Feb. 1. The show brings local scientists and comedians from each city it visits together for a night of entertainment and learning, followed by a panel discussion with all guests. Tickets are $18.

Science is devoted, fundamentally, to making sense of the world we live in. Experiments are used to collect data which can be applied to what’s around us. While it can create strong evidence, science is not, at its core, a stand-alone subject. Interactions with art, music, math and virtually any other discipline can contribute to the way we understand and apply science.

In recent years, NPR, podcasting and the ubiquity of the internet have changed the way science is talked about in the public sphere, breaking down barriers that might have previously surrounded it and opening up an entirely new, specialized realm of self-education and entertainment. Mauss is part of one brave new front using comedy to alter the way we think and talk about science, taking challenging information into a relaxed, active environment.

“If you do want to learn about science, it’s very easy these days” Mauss said in a recent phone interview. “There’s a lot of encouraging stuff, if you ask me, going on right now. If people do want to learn about science, this is the single greatest time in human history … I take online courses all the time, and there are professors from top universities teaching an endless number of classes on an endless numbers of topics.”

Mauss’ podcast, Here We Are, interviews a different scientist each episode over a variety of topics. Each episode is loosely themed; Mauss interviews these experts on subjects that are intensely and immediately accessible to audiences or listeners, trying to find, he said, “all relatable things.” When choosing subjects and scientists for each episode, he said, “[I] attempt to make stuff that has information that people can apply to live more informed and better lives.”

Mauss said that he has “always known [he] wanted to be a comedian.”His stand up has been featured on late night talk shows and his own three comedy albums since his first late night appearance 2007.

“I think much of what comedy is, is noticing the smaller things about life that other people either aren’t noticing, or maybe too afraid to talk about publicly,” he said. “Either way, it’s a way people can hear some of these hidden truths.”

The Here We Are podcast covers a wide swath of scientific subjects, from mating behavior episodes on Valentine’s Day to regular analysis of consumer and marketing strategies. There seem to be episodes to pick apart the scientific basis of nearly any casual interest.

Approaching science from a comedian’s perspective, Mauss’ work is heavily rooted in the joy behind learning and stretching a person’s understanding of themselves and their experience. Perhaps, in some way, the two subjects aren’t that different.

“Much of what a comedian’s life is doing,” Mauss said, “is sitting around and trying to sort out this existence.”

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While Here We Are is much more a strictly science podcast, Stand Up Science is a live blending of the two seemingly polar worlds. After sandwiching short scientific talks between each stand up set, the audience gets to participate with a Q&A session with all three guests, moderated by Mauss. The Q&A sessions give the audience a chance to interact with the material and the scientists a chance to share their work in a public and engaging format.

“So far, in my [Stand Up Science] shows, it’s been the most rewarding, attentive, enthusiastic audiences that ask such great questions,” Mauss said. “I now tell my guests to be as challenging as they want with their material.”.

Each Stand Up Science event is unique to each of the cities it’s performed in, across the United States, drawing from local comedic and scientific talent. The event’s popularity — it often has sold-out houses — is a strong indicator of intellectually hungry audiences being given the chance to challenge themselves while still getting all the excitement of a night out. Between bright audiences, engaging speakers and quick thinking comedians, the Iowa City event is sure to be a fast-paced examination of the human experience.

The Iowa City event will feature University of Iowa Carver College of Medicine Postdoctoral Research Scholars Kayly Lembke and Nicole Greene, who will discuss their research in neurodegenerative/cognitive disease and tissue development, respectively. Dan Umthun, host of the Underground Open Mic and the weekly comic book-culture webcast The Doomcast will be the guest comedian.

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