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Bill Nye discusses his career, gives advice to students during IDEA Week

| Friday, April 12, 2019

If Bill Nye the Science Guy were to write a book, it would not be about his award-winning television show, the mysteries of the cosmos or even about his time as a stand-up comedian.  It would be about grammar.

“A Fun Evening with Bill Nye the Science Guy,” an IDEA Week event, was filled with humor and activism Thursday night in the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center. Nye discussed the lessons he’s learned over his years of experience as a mechanical engineer, comedian, scientist, television presenter, author and inventor as well as his vision for the future with Susie Lira-Gonzalez, a graduate student who moderated the event.

ERIN SWOPE | The Observer
Susie Lira-Gonzalez moderates the IDEA Week talk, “An Evening With Bill Nye the Science Guy.” Nye discussed his career and gave advice to students, while also commenting on current science topics.

Nye began the evening by discussing his early career working at Boeing in 1977 and his experiences with mentorship. However, after Nye won a Steve Martin look-a-like contest in 1978, he began to do standup comedy.

“I would work on the drawing board and write these amazing, amazing memos, and then I would go home and take a nap, and then I would go to comedy clubs,” Nye said.

In 1986, Nye said he decided to quit his job as an engineer to focus on his burgeoning comedy career. It was around the same time when Nye developed his signature look of a suit with a bow tie.

“I had an intuition without being able to articulate it. But the guy who did articulate it was Jerry Seinfeld. He said, ‘You want to dress better than the audience,’ and so I wore a tie,” Nye said. “Whenever I wear a tie — a bowtie or a straight tie — I also wear a shirt. I mean I could pull [wearing a tie without a shirt] off though.”

Nye said he has around 500 bow ties. Although, Nye added to his collection when he was gifted a Notre Dame bow tie.

While writing on the sketch comedy show “Almost Live!” in Seattle, Nye said he became interested in creating a television show about science for kids. In 1993, he got a contract to create the now-famous show “Bill Nye the Science Guy.” However, the road to becoming a science icon who inspired some audience members to arrive in lab goggles and lab coats was not easy, Nye said.

“If you do stand-up comedy, you will fail,” he said. “It’s so difficult. The whole idea is to make it look like it’s not difficult, but if you screw up just one word, one pause, it just goes to heck. … I fail every day — don’t you? It’s just everyday there’s something you screw up and so two things. You have to cut yourself a little slack, but the other thing is you just got to keep going, you got to press forward.”

From there, Lira-Gonzalez posed some rapid-fire questions to Nye where he revealed if he could write a book about anything, it would be about grammar. He also said he thinks everyone should take a philosophy class, and his last tweet would be either, “I did my best,” or, “Clean water, reliable, renewably produced electricity, access to the internet for everyone, raise the standard of living and a better tomorrow for all human kind.”

Nye said he believes these three things will change the world and help with climate change.

“If you don’t accept that humans are causing climate change, you’re wrong,” Nye said.

For the remainder of the evening, Nye fielded questions from the audience.

The less serious side of the evening included a question about Nye’s favorite science pun. Nye said he didn’t want to tell his favorite one because everyone would think he didn’t like the other ones, but Nye did end up telling a few proton and neutron related puns.

“These are lame. But that you all know them is charming,” Nye said after the audience finished the puns for him.

Nye was also asked about his experience working on “Bill Nye the Science Guy.”

“There’s a bit in every show that I just love. But there’s also a bit in every show where I go, ‘Oh, why did we do that?’ and you’re probably thinking the same thing,” he said.

Nye also reflected on his experiences while filming the show, including accidentally falling over a small waterfall in a raft and getting to ride in a F/A-18 Hornet Blue Angels jet plane.

“Those things go very fast,” Nye said.

Nye also touched on more serious subjects, including the importance of finding accurate information in the age of the internet in response to a question about members of the Flat Earth Society. He stressed the importance of voting and women’s rights as well as the importance of discovery.

In response to a question about the relevance of the recently developed photograph of a black hole, Nye said he had “no flippin’ idea.” He then discussed though how previous discoveries with seemingly no significant applications — such as the discovery of relativity — have proven incredibly important for future discoveries.

“I want whatever the next law of physics or chemistry or biology, whatever it is, I want it to be discovered in the US,” Nye said. “So we don’t know what this picture of a shadow of a black hole means yet. But I guarantee you, the students in your lifetime, there will be profound effects.”

However, while Nye is a proponent of science, he doesn’t believe science is the only important subject.

“STEM is a fine acronym, but I imagine another one,” Nye said. “Science would be first. How about civics? We need civics. History. Science, civics, history. An overview of math. … Oratory would be a good one, and then language. And that acronym would be SCHOOL.”

Nye also said he thinks a well-rounded society is important for the future.

“You want people to be well-rounded,” he said. “Believe me, you don’t want everybody to become an engineer. Susie, you may be the possible exception, but the fashion consequences alone.”

Overall, Nye encouraged the audience to be passionate.

“Just be passionate and find something that you want to do,” he said. “Don’t worry too much about your first job or where you’re going to live. You’ll find your way. Just get started.”


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