the time I met Neil deGrasse Tyson

(I can’t believe I didn’t write about this when it happened. If I did, I can’t find it in my blog’s archives.)

Back in 2008, I started working for my local PBS station. I’d grown up watching Channel 8 and considered it my “cable” station until I moved in with a guy who ordered the kind of cable that you pay for each month. From the Electric Company’s “HEY YOU GUYYYSSSSSS!” of my youth to the documentaries, cooking shows and British comedies of my adulthood, Channel 8 always provided mentally healthy alternatives to other local broadcasters. So I had a particular love of this station that was equal parts nostalgia and current day appreciation.

Shortly after I started working here, we launched a quarterly lecture series. I was beyond excited when the first speaker was announced: Neil deGrasse Tyson. If you don’t know who he is, you should check him out. He first came to my attention from appearances on The Daily Show and The Colbert Report and in numerous science documentaries. He’s a captivating speaker, a great writer, a cool cat and has the ability to talk about science in a way that is accessible but not dumbed down.

We had a few tickets to give away to his lecture, so I posted on facebook that the first couple of people to respond would get a ticket from me. My friend Rob Mungle, a very funny – and some might say “edgy” – stand up comic in Houston, wanted a ticket. I gave his name to our events person, who also signed him up for the VIP reception, which was to be populated with representatives from the foundation sponsoring the lecture, some HoustonPBS board members, a couple of other special guests and staff.

After Tyson’s energizing and fascinating talk and the ensuing Q&A, those of us with the VIP passes moved to a little room with wine and dessert. James and I met up with my friend Rob, and we waited with the true VIPs for Tyson to arrive. He was just as friendly and funny off-stage as he was on. He answered a few questions from the room in general, including something deep from my friend Rob. All I remember is that it was about time travel. In the course of asking his question, Rob off-handedly mentioned that he is a stand up comic. Tyson stopped him right there, gave Rob a hug and said something to the effect of: “Stand up comedians hold the soul of the earth in their hands. They show us who we are right now.” He said more than that, much more eloquently than what I’ve written. It was a lovely paean to comedy/comics, and I tend to agree with him that (good) comedians provide unflinching mirrors to society, just as good plays do.

So he says all of this lovely stuff about comedians, and my friend Rob says, “Nah, man. I mostly just do jokes about titty bars.” Ahhh, just writing it out still makes me laugh. First off, Tyson, Rob, James and I laughed, but the rest of the room was either crickets (foundation representatives) or uncomfortable laughter (HoustonPBS staff). Second, I’m pretty sure that’s the first time the words “titty bars” have been spoken at a HoustonPBS VIP reception. Third, Rob may have a joke or two about titty bars, but he covers more interesting, politically-charged territory than that.

Man, it was funny. Such awesome awkwardness. I immediately texted my brother Mason who was still living in Austin at the time. I wrote: “Remind me to tell you about Neil deGrasse Tyson and titty bars.” Mason, also a fan of Tyson and aware that I was seeing him that night, immediately called me. Very excited. He thought that I was at a titty bar with Neil deGrasse Tyson. Though I’m not big on naked dancing ladies, I would of course have gone to a titty bar with Neil deGrasse Tyson had the opportunity come up. I told Mason what I just told you, and though he thought it was funny, it didn’t have the same impact of me sitting at topless joint having drinks with an astrophysicist.

I’ve done some random shit in my time, but that one hasn’t been checked off the list. Yet.

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