By Jeeves Verma
What is it like talking to one the most passionate, influential and active members of the global Science community?
The same kind of horrifying you’d imagine feeling if you were to see David Grohl sitting on the same bus as you. ‘Cos that’s who Bill Nye is: a bow-tie wearing Dave Grohl …but for Science!
Bill Nye the Science Guy was a very popular Science show in the 90’s (1993-1998). I know most of you at this time were probably doing things like developing your fine motor skills or sitting in your own excrement (no judgement if you are still doing these things); but I, as a kid, was completely enthralled by the sheer energy Bill Nye brought to his shows – He made me LOVE science!!
I was lucky enough to steal a few minutes out of his very busy day to chat about Science, his contribution to science advocacy and his upcoming live show at the Sydney Opera House, October 8. Sadly the interview is not the entire conversation – there were some technical difficulties in recording our phone interview but I hope you enjoy it, nonetheless. Here are the highlights of our conversation…
Bill Nye: Yes, greetings, greetings!
Jeeves: Hello Bill!
Bill Nye: Hi.
Jeeves: I’m extremely excited, honoured, to be able to talk to you so thank you for the opportunity!
Bill Nye: Oh thank you!
Jeeves: Bill, so you are coming to Australia, finally.
Bill Nye: Yes, well said – finally.
Jeeves: You’ve done so much for so long and you thought finally, let’s grace Australia with my presence.
Bill Nye: That’s right, well something like that. It started with our beloved International Astronautical Congress which this year is in Adelaide. And I’ll be there and I’ll be doing what they call Highlight Talk and then I’ll be going to Sydney and Melbourne.
Jeeves: How long are you here in total?
Bill Nye: 15 days. No, no.. 17 days. It’s my first trip!
Jeeves: Yeh! That’s amazing! Is there anything you want to see in particular outside of your work?
Bill Nye: Well, my understanding is I’m going to go to Kangaroo Island which I know is something people do. I also very much hoping to go the Cairns to go the Great Barrier Reef. Try surfing – would like to try the Australian surf.
Jeeves: Bill, so – just wanted to say, I think we have a lot in common…
Bill Nye: Oh I’m sorry for you!
Bill Nye: [laughs] What do we have in common?
Jeeves: First of all, we are both lovers of science: in high school, my majors were in Physics, chemistry and biology and advanced maths.
Bill Nye: What do you do now?
Jeeves: You know what, I was studying medicine at university and here’s the other thing we have in common – we both left our high-paying careers for comedy.
Bill Nye: Oh right yes! It took me a long time to move from comedy to science on television. Yeh, I continued to work as an engineer – I continued to work freelance as an engineer; in the States we use the expression “as a contract worker”.
Jeeves: So your parents weren’t as disappointed as mine were when I broke the news.
Bill Nye: I don’t think any parents have been more disappointed than yours.
Bill Nye: Oh that was really embarrassing for you… you hit the bottom! Its fascinating to speak with you, well no, it’s an honour, really…. I kid because I love!
Jeeves: That’s exactly right…
Bill Nye: I joke because I care!
Jeeves: That’s very true. And the other thing is that we both have a passion to change the world, I think. And wasn’t that the whole point of Bill Nye The Science Guy?
Bill Nye: Yes. Absolutely. I had a document that I gave to everybody that came to work on the show and over the years we had a great many interns – I guess there were over 200 people altogether – and a the top of the document, the first thing it says is “Objective: Change the World.” That was in 1992 and that really hasn’t changed that much.
Jeeves: Yeh right. So you had a busy year this year. My understanding is that you’ve released a documentary Bill Nye: Science Guy that premiered at the South by South West film festival – is that available to watch or purchase? Is that online somewhere?
Bill Nye: Not till November 3rd. Is my understanding of the release. It might be November 10th – its either the first or second week of November and it will be on Netflix in Australia.
Jeeves: And not only did that premiere this year, you were also at the March for Science in Washington in April?
Bill Nye: That’s right. Oh everybody was very excited. People in the states are largely very, very concerned about our politics. People in the United States have a sense of how influential the US is around the world. But I don’t think we get it – I don’t think people realise how important the United States has been for the world we have now, for better or for worse. And so when you have a government that seems to be acting thoughtlessly it’s a big concern to all of us. So the people at the March for Science were very concerned – funding for basic science and science research was being curtailed for illogical reasons and so everybody showed up. And I was back in Washington the following week for a Climate March which is a separate event and attended by even more people!
Jeeves: So that must have been a pretty exciting experience to see so many people being so passionate about science and…
Bill Nye: Oh it’s amazing. It was great. You don’t realise though.. I wasn’t aware how many people are aware of the importance of science and basic research to our economy, to any country’s economy and any country’s ability to remain competitive. So they showed up by the tens of thousands!
Jeeves: That must have been a very special experience.
Bill Nye: I did a speech which I’m very proud of – it was only two minutes! And, I framed it! [laughs] Oh yeh, because it was pouring down rain. The teleprompt system, which is where you can read without having to look down, that wasn’t working; the rain was blowing, even though we were under a roof the stage had a roof, a cover, was completely ineffective because the direction of the wind was right at the speaker so my back-up pages were soaking wet but nevertheless, it was an amazing, extraordinary moment. Very cool.
Jeeves: That’s great! If its online, I’d definitely love to see it!
Bill Nye: I wonder if it is online. Why don’t I just make a note to make sure its online.
[It is online – you can watch that beautiful speech HERE]
Jeeves: Yeh that’d be great. So after the march in Washington, this year you’ve also just finished season 1 of Bill Nye Saves The World…
Bill Nye: Well we’ve just finished shooting season 2! Season 1 is online and available, but season 2 has just finished shooting.
Jeeves: And when does that come out?
Bill Nye: My understanding is it will be released in two blocks, in the coming months.
Jeeves: Hey look, we’re just really excited over here about it and I’m particularly excited…
Bill Nye: I can’t get over how many Australians are familiar with my work and my shows. It’s very cool. It’s amazing to me.
Jeeves: Oh, Bill! You must understand, for someone like me who grew up loving science, it was you, Bill Nye the Science Guy, David Attenborough and Stephen Hawking – they were my real influences – please tell me you were friends with both of them?
Bill Nye: Well, I’ve have dinner with Stephen Hawking…
Jeeves: Oh, wow.
Bill Nye: And we spent a lot of time with him because the Planetary Society gave him an award in 2005 and he was very gracious, I mean, it sounds like an odd thing but he was really excited because he and Carl Sagan were colleagues and acquainted and I had Carl Sagan for one class…
Jeeves: Yeh, I’ve heard that! For Astronomy!
Bill Nye: And that lead to a sequence of events that now I’m the CEO of the Planetary Society.
Jeeves: And you’re still the head of that?
Bill Nye: Oh yes! Yes, yes! I go there… I’m on email all the time, but I go there a couple of days a week.
Jeeves: I’m just amazed that you fit so much into your schedule.
Bill Nye: Oh good but the main thing is that I’m talking with YOU! AM I RIGHT?
Jeeves: I’m so honoured, that I am. Bill, just to give our listeners a bit of context… not only have you been doing all these fantastic TV shows: you’ve had Bill Nye the Science Guy, you’ve had Bill Nye Saves the World… you’ve also had, was it Eyes for Nye??
Bill Nye: The Eyes of Nye. The Eyes of Nye was produced in Seattle. And a couple of them will stand the test of time and were very good but they didn’t have nearly the budget that we have now to do this Netflix show.
Jeeves: Right, but it was aimed at a much older audience, yes?
Bill Nye: Well it was the next thing after the Science Guy show. We did shos of climate change in 2005; shows on climate change, addiction, nuclear waste, the evolution of superbugs, so called, these are the germs that are resistant to antibiotics and stuff like that quite a while ago.
Jeeves: That great. Look, I’d love our listeners to go and look up that stuff because it’s a really interesting show to watch. But, I’m a little bit conscious of time so I have a few questions here – science questions submitted by our students..
Bill Nye: Sounds great!
Jeeves: Have you ever been a situation where… in a sort of Breaking Bad situation? Would you go there?
Bill Nye: Would I have committed crimes in order to finance cancer treatments? …No.
Jeeves: Ok [laughs]. Now we have that on record.
Bill Nye: My uncle was a geologist who sold explosives and he spent quite a bit of time in Australia, by the way – he sold all kinds of dynamite in Australia – and he did the thing that everybody asks me to do, or ask if I can do routinely and what’s that? “Hey Bill! Can you blow somethin’ up? You’re the Science Guy, can you blow somethin’ up?”
Jeeves: And what’s the answer?
Bill Nye: “Sure. Yeh, sure”
Jeeves: Here’s a question I’ve always wanted some insight on… it’s a known fact that the universe is ever-expanding – What is it expanding in to?
Bill Nye: Yep. That’s it. Nobody knows! It may not be a meaningful question. It’s propagating the idea that space and time are expanding but its not… our inability to imagine space-time expanding into nothing is our problem – not the Universe’s problem. That’s something to think about.
Jeeves: There you go. Well, you’ve spent generations teaching young people all about science; is there anything I can teach you about Australia that you’d like to know right now?
Bill Nye: Well, there are no non-venomous snakes, right?
Jeeves: There are non-venomous snakes…
Bill Nye: Is it true that you leave a light on at night because the buzz or the sound of the cockroaches in the wall is so loud that you want to push them away a little bit? Is that true or not?
Jeeves: In regional Australia, that might be the case.
Bill Nye: Alright! That was fun either way.
Jeeves: Yeh. So Bill, you are coming to Sydney with a live show which I am over the moon about – what can we expect from the show?
Bill Nye: I hope you will laugh, you will cry – your life will be changed forever. I think this is reasonable to say that this will be the greatest night of your life. No, wait I hope you come and enjoy it and get some ideas and go out and wanna save the world for humans!
Jeeves: I’m am so excited to see it! Bill you are going to have so much fun here, as well!
Bill Nye: That’s what everybody tells me! My sister lived there for a year and she loved it! Greatest year of her life.