Comedian Tim Lee finds the humor in science

It is the ultimate college nightmare to realize your major of pursuit is not for you. Scientist-turned-comedian Tim Lee clearly made the best of that dilemma.

Lee was a UC Davis graduate student finishing up a Ph.D. in ecology and evolution when he realized how much the entailed duties bored him. On a whim he experimented with comedy, using science as the premise of his jokes. Upon initial success, Lee ultimately turned his fusion of both fields into a career.

Lee has since sold out shows along the East Coast and is now making his return to Davis. Lee’s Davis show will take place at the Richard M. Brunelle Performance Hall on Feb. 2. In anticipation of the homecoming performance, MUSE teamed up with Lee to dissect his comedy endeavors.

MUSE: You’re known as a scientist-turned-comedian. What specifically motivated you to make the switch?

Lee: I was in a point of my life where I didn’t want to read and write any more papers; I was frustrated with what I was doing and I decided that I would just try something new in my life. I did not know I would become a comedian; I had never been on stage before. I thought, “Hey, this would be completely different,” so I gave it a try. I wrote some jokes and read books by comedians and went to an open mic and tried it out. I found out that it worked pretty well.

Has comedy always been a passion of yours?

I’ve always enjoyed joking around with my friends, but I was never comfortable talking in front of people. If I didn’t know someone, I wouldn’t joke with [them]. I honestly never thought joking would become my profession.

How did you go about developing your comedic style?

It came by accident. The first time I performed was at an open mic in a San Francisco laundromat. The host introduced me on stage with, “Show this guy some love; it’s his first time on stage.” So, I went on stage and said, “He’s correct. This is my first time on stage, but don’t worry: I’ve read a lot of books.” I didn’t mean it as a joke, but the audience thought it was funny! I found that my academic background could bring out my comedy.

So, you integrate your science background into your comedy?

Yes, the scientific approach is the backbone of my comedy. “PowerPoint comedy” is a part of my show; I explain the science topic and then make a joke about it. Actually, I did my first PowerPoint bit in Davis while I was giving a talk as a graduate student. I just wanted to make my talk more interesting. I tried “PowerPoint comedy” again in Palo Alto, and the drunken bar crowd liked it, so I thought to try it around at other places. Really, I have UC Davis to thank for launching my comedy career.

Where do you find inspiration for new material?

Inspiration comes from lots of weird sources; sometimes I’m just thinking about something in the shower. Sometimes, something I’m reading or something in conversation will strike me as funny. I’ll just start writing and work [the idea] into a bit. Most times, if I think of something funny, I will record it [onto] my phone and forget about it. Then two weeks later, I will listen to the recordings and if I think they’re still funny, I’ll try to turn them into a stage bit.

What do you look forward to most about performing in Davis?

Getting back to Davis! I don’t get to go up there enough anymore. I had a great time in Davis; it’s a fun place and I would love to perform in a college town atmosphere.

Ticket prices are $9 for students and $22 for general admission. For more information about the event, visit Brown Paper Tickets.