The Serious Genius Behind Hilarious Comedy


If You Work in a Creative Industry, You Should Steal Other People's Ideas

Just as Shakespeare lifted plots from his predecessors, young performers today ought to focus on emulating those artists they like most. That's not to say plagiarism is excusable; it's not. It just means that artists who are just getting started should seek to model themselves after those who have gone before.


Take it from John Cleese of Monty Python fame: "You say, 'I'm going to write something completely new and original and very funny.' You can't do it. It's like trying to fly a plane without having any lessons. You've got to start somewhere and the best way to start is by copying something that is really good."

Ruby Wax on Neuroplasticity: "You're the Architect of Your Own Brain"

Ruby Wax put her comedy career on hold a few years ago in order to research mental illness and mindfulness-based cognitive therapy at Oxford. It's there that she first encountered neuroplasticity: the ability to rewire your brain just by changing the way you think. Wax, who sports a Master's in Mindfulness-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, now travels the world promoting mental health awareness and stigmatization. Her new book is titled "Sane New World."

Jesus Was My Invisible Babysitter

In this personal narrative of the evolution of his faith, Ricky Gervais describes how and why he became an atheist.

The Most Valuable Skill that Nobody Teaches: How to Listen

Tom Yorton explains why listening is paramount to good business. The value of working toward excellent listening skills is one of the key lessons he's learned from working as an executive at Second City. Yorton is co-author of a new book titled Yes, And: How Improvisation Reverses "No, But" Thinking and Improves Creativity and Collaboration — Lessons from The Second City.

Stephen Fry’s Humor Was Lost on Salt Lake City

A Mormon tour guide did not appreciate his sly questions.

Making Fun of People Is Inclusive, but Only If It’s Funny

Whatever we're most afraid to talk about, that's where comedy should go, says famously outrageous (and outrageously funny) comedienne Lisa Lampanelli. We're spending way too much time tiptoeing around each other for fear of causing offense, and it's driving people and communities apart. Whatever makes us laugh brings us closer together.

Laughter: The Only Thing in Life That Will Save You From Looking Stupid

America has had biting social satire since at least the mid-'50s (Lenny Bruce). We’ve gone through many convulsions as a society, but we’re still (again) in the midst of racial anxiety and social upheaval (rich-poor gap, Donald Trump’s xenophobia). Ian Edwards' comedy often deals with issues of social discomfort around race and identity. More than any other profession, stand-up comedy is about getting to the truth of who you are, and becoming at ease with that. Edwards discusses comedy not as one single thing but as several, distinct things. Comedy is an antidote to taking life too seriously — an equivalent to sex, and a way to safely express truths that aren't politically correct.

Let’s Stop Giving Oscars to Actors Who Play the Disabled, and Start Letting the Disabled Play Themselves.

Outside of RJ Mitte, who played Walt Jr. on Breaking Bad, there are very few actors with disabilities who get the chance to tell their own stories on television. Actress and comedian Maysoon Zayid, who like Mitte was born with cerebral palsy, discusses her disability in this Big Think interview while also stressing the importance of positive media portrayals of people with disabilities. "When you do see disability on television," she says, "we're reduced to two storylines. Either 'heal me' or 'you can't love me because I'm disabled.'" Zayid hopes someday soon television will make a stronger commitment to actors with disabilities.

Onion Editor Joe Randazzo Reveals How to Write Concise, Funny Headlines That Avoid Rambling or Falling Flat

How The Onion keeps its front page funny.

We Can't Have Comedy and Be Politically Correct at the Same Time

John Cleese says political correctness has gone too far, especially on America's college campuses, where he will no longer go to perform. The very essence of his trade — comedy — is criticism and that not infrequently means hurt feelings. But protecting everyone from negative emotion all the time is not only impractical (one can't control the feelings of another), but also improper in a free society. Cleese, having worked with psychiatrist Robin Skynner, says there may even be something more sinister behind the insistence to be always be politically correct.

More playlists
  • Scientists strive to earn credit from their peers, for grants from federal agencies, and so a lot of the decisions that they make are strategic in nature. They're encouraged to publish exciting new findings that demonstrate some new phenomenon that we have never seen before.
  • This professional pressure can affect their decision-making — to get acclaim they may actually make science worse. That is, a scientist might commit fraud if he thinks he can get away with it or a scientist might rush a result out of the door even though it hasn't been completely verified in order to beat the competition.
  • On top of the acclaim of their peers, scientists — with the increasing popularity of science journalism — are starting to be rewarded for doing things that the public is interested in. The good side of this is that the research is more likely to have a public impact, rather than be esoteric. The bad side? To make a "big splash" a scientist may push a study or article that doesn't exemplify good science.
  • NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are working together on missions to a binary asteroid system.
  • The DART and Hera missions will attempt to deflect and study the asteroid Didymoon.
  • A planetary defense system is important in preventing large-scale catastrophes.

It's not just a Hollywood exaggeration that an impact from an asteroid crashing into Earth would be massively catastrophic. Depending on the size of the asteroid, the effects could range from millions dead to an outright end of all life. Cities destroyed. Climate altered forever. Remember the dinosaurs?

To prevent such eventualities, space agencies around the world are working out planetary defense approaches. NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) have teamed up on a historic first-ever test of an Earth defense systems with missions aimed at knocking an asteroid off course.

The Double Asteroid Redirect Test (DART) project takes particular aim at an asteroid duo consisting of a 780-meter-long asteroid called "Didymos" and its smaller orbiting rock, dubbed "Didymoon." It's about the size of the Pyramid of Giza (160m across).

The plan of NASA's DART mission is to launch a probe in 2020-2021 which will get to Didymoon by October 2022. It will then crash into it while traveling at about 4 miles per second, moving it off previous course.

This NASA animation shows how the Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) would target the smaller (left) Didymoon.

ESA's Hera mission of 2026 will land a cube satellite on Diddymoon after the impact to study what happened and whether the orbit of the asteroid around the bigger rock changed. The Hera probe, which will be launched in 2023, will also gather information on the mass and surface properties of the asteroid, as well as examine the crater left by DART. The CubeSat will likely land near the asteroid's poles.

"This will give us a good estimate of the impact's momentum transfer, and hence its efficiency as a deflection technique," expands Michael Küppers, the Hera project scientist. "These are fundamental parameters to enable the validation of numerical impact models necessary to design future deflection missions. We will better understand whether this technique can be used even for larger asteroids, giving us certainty we could protect our home planet if needed."

Credit: ESA

Mission Infographic.


The giant rocks do not currently present a danger to Earth and were chosen because they will be seven million miles away from our planet even at their closest point. Additionally, Didymoon, which will be the smallest asteroid ever visited, is useful to study because its size makes it a bigger risk. Such rocks are harder to track. If it was to crash into Earth, the ensuing disaster would be horrific on a regional scale.

The missions will also help us gain a better understanding of binary asteroid systems, which make up about 15% of detected asteroids. They will also test technology that may prove useful for the burgeoning field of asteroid mining.

Asteroids and comets visited by spacecraft from Earth 

Planetary Society

  • Instead of prescribing medications to kids with ADD or ADHD, Clark and his team at Brain.fm are looking to music as another option for treatment.
  • Through a grant from the National Science Foundation, the company is developing music that features "neural-phase locking" — a combination of different principles that create specific characteristics in the brain, such as increased concentration or relaxation.
  • As long as they're listening to the music, the neural phase-locking aspect of Brain.fm's tunes has the potential to keep people focused.

The life choices that had led me to be sitting in a booth underneath a banner that read “Ask a Philosopher" – at the entrance to the New York City subway at 57th and 8th – were perhaps random but inevitable.


I'd been a “public philosopher" for 15 years, so I readily agreed to join my colleague Ian Olasov when he asked for volunteers to join him at the “Ask a Philosopher" booth. This was part of the latest public outreach effort by the American Philosophical Association, which was having its annual January meeting up the street.

I'd taught before – even given speeches – but this seemed weird. Would anyone stop? Would they give us a hard time?

I sat between Ian and a splendid woman who taught philosophy in the city, thinking that even if we spent the whole time talking to one another, it would be an hour well spent.

Then someone stopped.

At first glance, it was hard to tell if she was a penniless nomad or an emeritus professor, but then she took off her hat and psychedelic scarf and came over to the desk and announced, “I've got a question. I'm in my late 60s. I've just had life threatening surgery, but I got through it."

She showed us the jagged scar on her neck. “I don't know what to do with the rest of my life," she said. “I've got a master's degree. I'm happily retired and divorced. But I don't want to waste any more time. Can you help?"

Wow. One by one, we all asked her to elaborate on her situation and offered tidbits of advice, centering on the idea that only she could decide what gave her life meaning. I suggested that she might reach out to others who were also searching, then she settled in for a longer discussion with Ian.

And then it happened: A crowd gathered.

At first I thought they were there to eavesdrop, but as it turned out they had their own existential concerns. A group of teenagers engaged the philosopher on my right. One young woman, who turned out to be a sophomore in college, stepped away from the group with a serious concern. “Why can't I be happier in my life? I'm only 20. I should be as happy as I'm ever going to be right now, but I'm not. Is this it?"

It was my turn. “Research has shown that what makes us happy is achieving small goals one after the other," I said. “If you win the lottery, within six months you'll probably be back to your baseline of happiness. Same if you got into an accident. You can't just achieve happiness and stay there, you have to pursue it."

“So I'm stuck?" she said.


"No…" I explained. "Your role in this is huge. You've got to choose the things that make you happy one by one. That's been shown from Aristotle all the way down to cutting-edge psychological research. Happiness is a journey, not a destination."

She brightened a bit, while her friends were still puzzling over whether color was a primary or secondary property. They thanked us and moved on.

Suddenly, the older woman who had stopped by initially seemed satisfied with what Ian had told her, and said that she had to be on her way as well.

Again it was quiet. Some who passed by were pointing and smiling. A few took pictures. It must have looked odd to see three philosophers sitting in a row with "Ask a Philosopher" over our heads, amidst the bagel carts and jewelry stalls.

During the quiet I reflected for a moment on what had just happened. A group of strangers had descended upon us not to make fun, but because they were carrying around some real philosophical baggage that had long gone unanswered. If you're in a spiritual crisis, you go to your minister or rabbi. If you have psychological concerns, you might seek out a therapist. But what to do if you don't quite know where you fit into this world and you're tired of carrying that burden alone?

And then I spotted her … an interlocutor who would be my toughest questioner of the day. She was about 6 years old and clutched her mother's hand as she craned her neck to stare at us. Her mother stopped, but the girl hesitated. "It's OK," I offered. "Do you have a philosophical question?" The girl smiled at her mother, then let go of her hand to walk over to the booth. She looked me dead in the eye and said: "How do I know I'm real?"

Suddenly I was back in graduate school. Should I talk about the French philosopher Rene Descartes, who famously used the assertion of skepticism itself as proof of our existence, with the phrase "I think, therefore I am?" Or, mention English philosopher G.E. Moore and his famous "here is one hand, here is the other," as proof of the existence of the external world?

Or, make a reference to the movie "The Matrix," which I assumed, given her age, she wouldn't have seen? But then the answer came to me. I remembered that the most important part of philosophy was feeding our sense of wonder. "Close your eyes," I said. She did. "Well, did you disappear?" She smiled and shook her head, then opened her eyes. "Congratulations, you're real."

She grinned broadly and walked over to her mother, who looked back at us and smiled. My colleagues patted me on the shoulder and I realized that my time was up. Back to the conference to face some easier questions on topics like "Academic Philosophy and its Responsibilities in a Post-Truth World."The Conversation

Lee McIntyre, Research Fellow Center for Philosophy and History of Science, Boston University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.