College tends to be a formative period, but not always in the way you’d expect. For science comedian Brian Malow, BA ’85, a key event was seeing a poster for the “Funniest Person in Austin” contest in the spring of 1987, while he was a Radio-Television-Film graduate student at UT (he later left the program without a degree). Malow decided to give it a shot, even though he’d never been onstage before.
“I went to two open-mic nights for practice, then the competition was my third time onstage,” he says. “I did great, made the finals, but choked there. Still, it was good enough to make it that far.”
The experience hooked Malow, who launched a standup comedy career after graduating from UT in 1985 and moving to California in 1992. Even when doing straight standup, science would creep into his routines often enough for it to become a specialty. Upon discovering that the domain name ScienceComedian.com was available (“Either a really good or a really bad sign,” he says), he decided to go the route of making science understandable and funny to average folks.
“It was a natural evolution from what I was always kind of doing,” Malow says. “The voice I tended to write in was generally science-geeky, and I strove to do smart stuff. A comedy friend said my jokes always had more information in them than most other comedians’ jokes, which I chose to take as a compliment. There’s always been something of a teacher in me, even as a comic.”
After a few years of standup road work, Malow did an Internet talk show, “But Seriously With Brian Malow.” That led to video work for Time magazine, a variety of podcast projects, and radio pieces for his fellow UT alumnus Neil deGrasse Tyson’s radio show.
Among his more notable videos was one where he proposed to his then-girlfriend Tara as the space shuttle Discovery launched on its last flight in February 2011. They wed in April 2012, shortly before moving to Raleigh, North Carolina, where Malow works at the state science museum’s Nature Research Center. Malow’s title is curator of the NRC’s Daily Planet Theatre, in which capacity he hosts programs, serves as emcee, and interviews scientists for the weekly “Science Cafe.”
“I’m not a scientist or an expert, but I’m fairly knowledgeable, a huge enthusiast, and a curious guy,” he says. “I ask a lot of questions, some of them weird. I am a bridge or translator, helping nudge scientists into making things clearer for the audience.
“When I’m speaking to students, they’ll ask, ‘When are we ever gonna need to know this?’ Well, I never would have guessed I’d use my science education as a comedian. So you never know. It’s good to be educated and you don’t know how you’ll apply it, until you do.”
Brian Malow. Photo by Russ Creech.