Ten Extraordinary Questions With Ian Harris

Hello SciBorg!

(We’re going with SciBorg now, cool? Cool.)

I’m venturing out of my little hiding hole and featuring some of the wonderful friends I’ve made over the last few years in science and skepticism with a Q&A series. I’m not going to agree with everything all of my guests have to say, but we’re adults and we can have different ideas.  If you think the delightful miscreants who laugh at my jokes about Gwyneth Paltrow’s vagina stones will enjoy hearing about your work, send me an email. I’m aiming to put one of these up each week, timezone/illness/battle with GMO corn notwithstanding on Tuesdays. 

To kick this off, the American Atheist Conference in August last year, a handful of fun things happened. I got to wander beautiful and historic North Charleston wearing my this non-partisan shirt. A very small group of us plopped down for lunch with James Randi where he and my boyfriend bonded over their beards (have you always wanted to talk to Randi? If you can make it to one of these conferences where he’s speaking, I promise you, he is probably both the friendliest and most accessible person there). And last but certainly not all, after running into each other at a handful of events, I finally got to see Ian Harris perform standup. I was in pain from laughing so hard. Have a quick peek for yourself:

Giggles and critical thinking? I think you’ll like this guy. So I got a sneak peak of his new special, Extraordinary, and preened from it a few questions about the comic himself. 

Your new act starts with a quote that a lot of us are familiar with, “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” What does a skeptic consider an extraordinary claim that non-skeptics sometimes take for granted?

“I find it strange that it seems the most extraordinary claims seem to be the ones people take the most for granted, like religion or the existence of God. A magic dude in the sky who created everything and can do everything, yet never does… unless somehow it fits your personal bias. That is about as Extraordinary as they come and it’s SO common. I live in California, so it seems most people I know seem to think it’s common knowledge that GMOs are bad and Monsanto runs the world, but nothing’s further from the truth.”

Do people get testy about you joking about God or do you think we’re in an era where people are comfortable with that now?

“My shows tend to be a lot of preaching to the choir, since I am building a pretty good fan base  who come to see me specifically, but I still do shows at comedy clubs and places where people don’t know what they are about to see. In general most people are pretty OK with religion jokes, and one would think that at a comedy show you would expect anything and everything to be on the chopping block. I still get people walk out sometimes and still get people come up to me after shows upset that I “was mean to them.” I do find it curious that no one seems to take it personally when I rail on Astrology or Bigfoot, but when I make a joke about Christianity (not Christians themselves, because there is a difference) they often feel I am personally attacking them. Again, this is that personifying of our beliefs, or identifying with our beliefs as “who we are” not “what we choose to believe.” I think it is strongest with religion because religion is coddled, respected and even revered in our society. That along with indoctrination at birth make these beliefs harder to look at critically or comedically for many.”

Do you have a favorite thing to kick some funny out of for your act?

Honestly, I still love to make fun of religion the most, because it’s so ludicrous to me. In my first special I did a long bit about alternative medicine that I really loved because it showed in detail the level the WORLD would have to go to in order to hide the cure for cancer.  It would assume that every person involved in medicine, from researchers to doctors to non-profits, would have to all be the most evil people ever. I know this is three things not one, but it is fun to go after the bigfoot hunters too!

Any of those subjects can make you butt heads with your friends sometimes (hopefully not Bigfoot). We both go through this sometimes: the skeptic/asshole conundrum- how many times have you been defriended for your facebook posts? And how often have you convinced people that they were wrong for a crazy belief?

I don’t know exactly how many times I’ve been unfriended. Watching my act you would never know this, but I am a really nice person. (SciBabe note- he is, I swear!) I try to be nice and amicable in every situation and I think most people actually like me as a person, so they don’t unfriend me, but might PM me to tell me how disappointed they are in my ranting against their issue. That being said, I have my share of social media fallouts. I’m not sure if I have directly convinced people, but I actually get a lot of people after shows or again messages on Facebook telling me I have them shook up and they are going off to read. I get asked a lot if I am sure of what I said, because it makes sense, but they had never heard it put like that. Getting the wheels spinning is pretty satisfying!

Let’s take a quick trip outside of comedy- you’ve been an MMA fighter for a while. How did you get into comedy from MMA?

Actually, I started comedy long before MMA. I started training when I was 6 in boxing and did every martial art under the sun for my whole life, but coaching MMA fighters started 15 years ago and comedy started 27 years ago. It was actually my manager at the time wanted me to not be on the road so much, so I took a day job to stay home more. Since I was home more I decided I needed to get back in shape and was not going to any classes, so started teaching a class. That way I had to show up. From there it evolved into a fight team. I have always wanted to be involved with both comedy and fighting since I was very young

Well that teaches me not to make any assumptions! And people sometimes do live in their assumptions and biases. Speaking of, in your act, I loved you picking on people throwing cigarettes out of their Priuses. Do you find that people are blind to their own biases and things they do to work against their own cause?

Every single person ever! Including me I am sure, though I do my nest to be self-aware. Religion is more about a way of thinking and I find especially being in California my whole life, that many people have shed their religion, but not their religiosity. It now manifests in another way or topic or cause, GMOs, vaccinations, environment, health fads, and even in good causes like feminism or other forms of activism. This often makes intelligent and otherwise skeptical thinking people lose their ability to be self-critical and rational when discussing their particular cause. They also contradict themselves and their actions just as religious people to. They cherry pick facts and rationalize their contradictory behaviours any way they can. In the gluten free joke I talk about people who are gluten free for health purposes yet drink gluten free beer every night. I know several people who monitor everything they eat, everything their kids eat. They constantly tell everyone how what they are putting in their bodies is bad for them; chemicals this,  GMOs that… and then they drink a 6 pack of beer every night. But it’s okay because it’s organic and micro-brew so it isn’t bad for you! Beer is all natural!

I think many of the prius people probably don’t drive one for environmental reasons, so they’re off the hook on some level, but I think many who will justify throwing their cigarette out the window by saying it balances out, or they know it is wrong, but it is the ONLY thing bad they do. 

Oh, LA, it’s fun for those things. I lived there for the last five years, you still live in LA, and we’ve both experienced… the anti-gluten people. As my followers know from the 1,479 times I’ve mentioned it, I have celiac disease, and I loved the part of your act on gluten. Does it seem like the anti-gluten thing is over or that people in LA are still nuts about it?

Oh no, gluten allergies are still all over the place. Just this last weekend, I saw a kids shampoo that was “Certified non-GMO” and “Certified Gluten-Free”! Are kids eating their shampoo these days? I am ignorant on this subject, not having celiac disease nor hair, but is gluten a major ingredient in shampoo and do you need to avoid it when washing your hair? I have another friend who has celiac disease and she is torn because she loves all the options available now that weren’t there a few years ago, but can’t stand the gluten-free people. The good news is, if I want to avoid water, shampoo or a new car with gluten, they are all clearly marked for my safety these days!

Why do you think people some believe in chemtrails and not global warming?

We are dealing with the difference between right wing, anti-science conspiracy nuts and left-wing anti-science conspiracy nuts. Most anti-science stuff on the left comes down to a flat denial of anything they perceive as being approved by the government that might affect you directly. Cancer, Chemtrails, etc. It is a misguided fear of ALL authority. They have taken the great concept of “question authority” or “question everything” and turned it into “reject anything associated with any authority” and “reject everything that I don’t understand with my very limited knowledge of the subject.” The right wing conspiracy stuff is similar, but almost always comes down to something involving racism or money. The government is gonna take my hard earned money and give it to people who don’t look like me. It seems to me that most global warming deniers at the top probably don’t actually believe what they say. I just think they are greedy, short-sighted assholes and don’t care. I think the average person who votes for them is duped into believing whatever they say because they stay in their bubble of Fox News facts that provide no other side. I have seen with people like Alex Jones, that there is a crossover of people on both political sides that just deny anything the the government involved in (in their minds).  I find it funny that one of the main chemtrail “theories” is that the chemtrails control the weather, yet these same people deny climate change! How does that work? A hundred years of pollution, greenhouse gases, industrialism, etc have no effect on the environment and climate, but some airplane contrails at 30,000 feet dissipating into parts per trillion over a few short years can directly send a tornado to Bob’s house in Nebraska? I think we call this insanity.

You propose a climate change epic action movie and do a ton of voices of famous people acting other famous people (for my followers, this scene alone is what made my abs hurt from laughing). I ask this from experience: other than a lonely childhood, how does someone figure out they can do voices?

Who said there is another reason? Lonely childhood. That is it.

Honestly though, I have always been a good mimic. Since I was five I could do voices. It is one of those old stories in my house that when I was very young I would wake my parents up in the morning to give them the play by play of the boxing matches I was watching on “Wide World of Sports” as Howard Cosell. I’d do the interviews with Muhammad Ali, Larry Holmes, etc. There is the merger of my fighting and my comedy! People loved it though. My family would make me do impressions like a dancing monkey or something. That is how I really discovered stand-up comedy. I started paying attention to other people who could do characters and make people laugh. I realized this was an actual thing and people do it for a living!

How effective do you think comedy is at getting people on board with the subjects we talk about in skepticism?

I find that for the most part comedy and music seem to be some of the best ways to people on board. I think defenses are down when we are laughing or enjoying music or art. As long as it does not come off as a lecture, people are open to new ideas in these situations. I think beliefs are tied to emotion heavily, so if people laugh involuntarily at a joke, they realize (perhaps even subconsciously) that they are laughing at the ridiculousness of what was said or the contradiction that was pointed out, etc. That is what comedy does; takes things we all do and shows them back to us in a different light that make us laugh at how dumb or wierd or silly we all are. I try to do this to many subjects in my act, so what ends up happening is that you probably agree with me an 9 out of 10 things and are laughing for 50 minutes, then the 1 belief that you hold comes up and one of two things happens: You either find yourself laughing at it and now questioning yourself; or you are upset and not laughing because THIS subject isn’t funny. Meanwhile everyone else is laughing just as they were WITH you on the other jokes. Most of my jokes are a similar format (Here is a thing/belief that is not backed by science. People believe it anyway. Look how ridiculous it is. Here is an analogy that makes it even more ridiculous). So often this strikes a chord with people as the recognize the pattern, see everyone else laughing, note that they agree with me everywhere else and think “why am I not on board with this idea?”

Now most importantly… Where can people find you and all of your work?

People can follow me on all the social medias.

Facebook or Twitter is @comediocre. Did I mention I am a huge fan of portmanteaus?

Youtube is /ApocalypseComedyShow.

My website is www.skepticcomedian.com.

BUT if you want to really see what I do, please check out my 2 comedy specials. I suggest watching the latest one “ExtraOrdinary” first, as it is fresh and new, then if you like it check out “Critical & Thinking”. Both are available on most Video on Demand sites such as Amazon, iTunes, GooglePlay, VUDU, etc. “ExtraOrdinary” will also be coming to many cable carriers in 2018!

iTunes: https://itunes.apple.com/us/movie/ian-harris-extraordinary/id1314763174

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0785TX6GW.

I also just have one simple request: If you enjoy it and feel so inclined please leave a review. People do read them and it helps a lot!  If you did not enjoy it, keep that shit to yourself, no one reads those things anyway. 🙂

 

Check out Ian’s laugh for some laughs that guarantee you a place in hell if you still believe in that nonsense. If you see his act, you might say he’s extraordinary. 😉

 

-SciBabe.

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About SciBabe 77 Articles
Yvette d'Entremont, aka SciBabe, is a chemist and writer living in the San Francisco Bay area with her husband and their pets. With her addiction to crocheting and baking she's sure she would have made a great housewife if it wasn't for her potty mouth.

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