Blown joke nicely illustrates the danger of giving Neil deGrasse Tyson his own show

Last Thursday, The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore played host to (among others) Neil deGrasse Tyson, who is set to launch a brand new nightly talk show this very evening on the National Geographic Channel. I almost wish they’d let Neil take over the 11:30 Comedy Central slot from Larry Wilmore instead.

The need for Tyson’s scientific insight to reach a wider audience was nicely illustrated on March 26, when Larry hosted a four-person roundtable that included both alleged comedian J.B. Smoove and Nightly Show showrunner (and Daily Show veteran) Rory Albanese.

When the panel’s discussion turned to ISIS, Smoove joked that Isis was actually the name of a “lady who puts ice in her mouth before she gives you a blowjob.” Get it? It’s a joke about linguistics: ISIS contains, inter alia, the lone phoneme — /’aɪs/ — in “ice”.

But in case you didn’t (get it), Smoove reiterated his same joke moments later: “I tell you, there’s a girl named Isis who puts ice in her mouth before she gives guys blow jobs!”

And that’s when things went from merely unfunny to scientific catastrophe. Albanese chimed in: “You don’t want to get with this stripper named Crystal because that’s just painful.”

Nice try, but one big problem: Ice is a crystal. Here’s Wikipedia: “Water-based ice in the form of snow, sea ice and glaciers is a very common manifestation of crystalline or polycrystalline matter on Earth.” Indeed, “The word crystal is derived from the Ancient Greek word κρύσταλλος (krustallos), meaning both “ice” and “rock crystal”,[1] from κρύος (kruos), “icy cold, frost”.” Shame on you, Rory, for misleading your viewers on basic scientific fact.

This post might seem like mere pedantry, but this mishap is far from the only example of scientific misinformation on late night comedy shows identified by this blog alone.

It’s great that @neiltyson is getting his own show to pontificate on science, but boxing the discipline off — giving science a show on its very own channel — means that only those who are really interested in learning about the world will ever get the message. And there is, unfortunately, a lot of ignorance out there. At the very least, I’ll be (scientifically) crossing my fingers his new show will be successful.

Help us, Neil deGrasse Tyson. You are our only hope.


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