“You’re the Expert” is among a new crop of comedy podcasts and live shows that are mining science for laughs. The podcast-live show “The Scientists,” as well as the New York-based event series “Monotony,” “Drunk Science,” and “Drunk Education,” treat subjects like astronomy, human evolution and even the physics behind urinal cakes as source material; and the more obscure, bizarre and complex the topic is, the better. Whether they are Ph.D.s like Dr. Faherty or stand-up comedians and writers who extract funny from slide shows on dinosaurs, the performers aim to educate.
“My goal is for the show to be like ‘The Daily Show’ or ‘Last Week Tonight,’ where people come because it’s funny, but leave with this real information that they wouldn’t have gotten otherwise,” Chris Duffy, the host and creator of “You’re the Expert,” said.
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Since it debuted on HBO in 2014, “Last Week Tonight” has spun satire out of complicated — some would say dry — subjects like net neutrality, Medicaid and the I.R.S. Performers also take cues from the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson whose “StarTalk” podcast, live show and television series regularly feature comedians like Eugene Mirman, Maeve Higgins and Chuck Nice, interweaving pop-culture references into talks about outer space.
“Otherwise disinterested people learn science faster and better when they are happy,” wrote Dr. Tyson in an email, adding, “Personally, I think the universe is a hilarious place, so it’s never much of a stretch to take people there.”
These types of shows have found a natural home at Caveat, which opened in September with a mission to foster what the owner, Ben Lillie, called “intelligent night life.” Unlike most subterranean speakeasies, Caveat has small illustrations of scientists in the bathrooms and a calendar full of musical improv performances, debate nights and trivia competitions.
At Caveat, no one is roasted for having multiple doctorates. Science isn’t a cue for eye rolls, as Ross Geller’s enthusiasm for paleontology was on “Friends”; nor do jargon-filled explanations signify social ineptitude, as on “The Big Bang Theory.”
Credit Ravi Subramanian
Instead, guests are admired for their academic mastery. “I always want the scientists to leave feeling like a rock star,” Mr. Duffy said, adding that he knows a show is successful when “the expert” is mobbed by audience members afterward.
While Dr. Faherty sees this comedy as a form of public outreach — “funreach” as she called it — not unlike her appearances at the natural history museum, the Hayden Planetarium or at local bars for the international event series Astronomy on Tap, Mr. Duffy said some scientists have declined to participate in his show for fear of losing respect in their fields.
“The incentives for many scientists are set up in a perverse way,” he said, “so that they’re punished for being good at explaining their work to a general public rather than rewarded.”
Within the science-comedy slice is an even tinier sliver occupied by academics who moonlight as comedians. Dr. Ravi Subramanian, a medical writer and microbiology Ph.D who performs stand-up and hosts the monthly live show “Monotony” at Caveat under the name Raj Sivaraman. To him, the vastness of science and the constant developments of research guarantee there is always new terrain to explore in a joke.
“Airplane food and all the stereotypes of what stand-up was in the ’80s — that’s all been fairly well tread,” he said. But a bit about the intricacies of giraffe procreation, well, that’s new.
In his PowerPoint-centric show, Dr. Subramanian avoids topics that can turn divisive like climate change or gene discovery. To be able to construct a set around the science behind rubber ducks or Koko the gorilla — both of which are in his presentation catalog — is a gift.
“A lot of performers have told me that they’re relieved that they don’t have to talk about a political thing,” he said. “Now as a comedian, everything is about politics or the next insane thing that’s happening in the government.”
Not that these types of shows always stick to breezy topics. “The Scientists,” the podcast and live show hosted by the comedians Blythe Roberson and Madelyn Freed, recently did a show on cancer and the search for cures. Although the program included a live sketch featuring a hydrorobot that punched the disease out of people, they admitted the topic was tougher than past themes like artificial intelligence or insects.
The women view their show, which is heavy on slides, as a forum for merging two disparate cultures: scientists, who, according to Ms. Freed, pursue their research because of “some other mystical force that isn’t social pressure or, like, trying to be interesting”; and comedians, who are mostly motivated by a need for validation through applause and laughter.
Mr. Duffy, though, doesn’t see much of difference between the two groups. “Scientists and artists have so much in common,” he said. “They’re both trying to figure out something that no one else has done and create their mark in this very specific way.”
Near the end of Thursday’s show, Dr. Faherty asked, “Can I tell you why Enceladus” — a moon of Saturn whose icy ocean may be a source of life — “is so awesome since we’re all here in this moment?”
While her sister in the audience responded with an exasperated “no one cares,” everyone else sat, impatiently waiting for the next new fact to fall in love with.