Friday, August 30, 2013

Comedy and Physics Collide at the LHC

The great George Carlin was no Albert Einstein, but he was a comic genius
Some physicists at the Large Hadron Collider are about to embark on a completely different sort of experiment. What they will discover today may rival the detection of the Higgs particle in, well, in no way whatsoever.

Unlike most high energy physics experiments, you won't need countless hours on a massive server farm to tell if the experiment is a success. You should know pretty quickly by tuning into CERN's After Dark Stand-Up Comedy Evening taking place today at 2:00 PM Eastern time.

Usually, when I hear someone say, "physicists are funny," they don't mean funny in a ha ha kind of way. But some physicists have pretty good senses of humor. George Gamow added Nobel Laureate Hans Bethe as coauthor to one of his papers paper, without first consulting Bethe, along with Gamow's hard-working student Ralph Alpher, just so the author list would read Alpher, Bethe, Gamow, which is pretty funny if you know the Greek alphabet. (Alpher was not amused, which actually makes the whole thing a little funnier.)

And then there are all the other famous funny things physicists have done. Although, at the moment, I'm having a hard time thinking of specifics. I'm sure they'll come to me.

Physicists or not, stand-up comedy is a difficult skill to master. If today's event is like others I've been to, most of the performers are going to be awful, and one or two will redeem the rest. So don't let the duds scare you away. Stick with it through the tough sets and you may be awarded with brilliance.

As you wait for the show to start, or perhaps look for something to restore your faith in stand-up afterwards, there's at least one professional comedian worth checking out who incorporates lots of physics into his humor. This isn't the best video of him, but I've seen Brian Malow live and this former-astronomer-turned-stand-up-comic is good.

If you prefer more science in your science-humor blend, listen to pretty much any podcast by the amazing Sandra Tsing Loh.

If you want to add some music to your scientific humor entertainment, nobody can match Jonathan Coulton. His Future Soon song will resonate with just about any budding science geek.

And Mandelbrot Set will make you laugh 'til you cry, if you have any interest in chaos.

Above all, check out the stand-up from CERN today. It starts at 10:00 8:00PM Geneva Time, so it will be an early show for most of us in the US. Tell your friends to tune in too. It may be hilarious, it may be excruciating, but it will almost certainly be an event to remember.

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