Tim Lee is certainly not the first person to try to make science funny. Seattleites fondly remember Bill Nye the Science Guy as someone who taught us as children how science could be fun.
Lee might be one of the first scientists to appeal to adults through stand up comedy. He explains scientific concepts to his audience, and then turns them into a joke.
In a You Tube video of his stand up, he presents the concept of an attractor.
"This is a mathematical term for a place where things tend to end up," Lee said. "For example, leaves on a patio tend to get blown around until they end up in the corner where they can't move anymore. We can view the corner as an attractor. That compartment at the bottom of your refrigerator, also an attractor."
"Comedy and science are closely related," Lee said. "I take science and twist it a little bit. Add a little absurdity and it's funny."
Lee, who has a doctorate in ecology from University of California, Davis, worked in organismal population dynamics for years before he decided he needed a change.
"I was bored with what I was doing, so I tried comedy," Lee said.
After an article about him was recently published in a scientific magazine Lee said he received e-mails from scientists around the world who encouraged him to continue.
"That support really meant a lot to me," Lee said. "I'd always felt a twinge of guilt for leaving science behind to pursue a life as a comedian. I knew that science was important. Comedy seemed so frivolous."
Lee conducts his stand up act like a scientific seminar, PowerPoint presentation and all. He presents the funny aspects of scientific concepts like molecular bonding. Lee said his goal was never to teach people about science, or to somehow make it cool.
"That was never my goal, but sometimes people tell me I'm making nerds cool," Lee said. He just wants to make jokes, but says it's OK if it helps make science a little cooler, too.
While non-scientific people come to his show to laugh, they also end up learning a few things as well. People in the scientific community also find Lee's stand up entertaining, and have embraced him as a comedian and an ally.
"I've gotten a lot of support from the scientific community," Lee said in an e-mail. "They are big laughers and love to talk about the comedy after the show. It makes me feel good that they can see another side of science and really enjoy it on a visceral level. I've actually gotten job offers from scientists who are at the show."
Although he lives in Los Angeles, the comedian has ties to Seattle. His sister has lived in Magnolia for 20 years. Lee said Seattle is one of his favorite places to perform, and not just because his sister lives here. He performed at the Moore Theater for the "Laugh Lovers Ball" in February.
"Seattle is a smart crowd and they tend to get the humor and they've been very supportive," Lee said.
Tim Lee plays Theatre Puget Sound Friday, Oct.16.
Theatre Puget Sound is located on the Fourth Floor of the Seattle Center House
305 Harrison. For more information visit www.tpsonline.org or call 206-770-0370.