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Jason Pittman: We’ve both got stories about teaching science for the Politics of Science show, and I’m really looking forward to your debut as a storyteller, by the way. You describe putting on a show of sorts for your students. What parallels do you find between performing in the classroom in order to turn kids on to science and performing on an actual stage?
Chuck Na: I guess both cases hinge upon belief in the material that’s being presented, and by belief I mean having a thorough knowledge and excitement, a passion, for the material. The best performers I’ve ever seen, both teachers and stage performers, seem to enliven and embody the material. What similarities do you find between teaching kids and telling stories to adults? What differences?
JP: It’s funny, I think I’ve learned a lot about telling stories to adults by teaching kids. In both cases, keeping information concise and simple, making your presence fill the room, and if you start to lose them, shout something about diarrhea. The difference is that some adults will feign disapproval at the diarrhea joke, every kid will laugh.
I get really excited about the expansion of performance genres that storytelling represents as it becomes more popular, and its afforded more opportunities to try out new things on stage. What types of performances do you find interesting or think you might try next?
CN: First off, thank you for trumpeting the value of scatological humor. Poop jokes will entertain everyone worth entertaining. Second, I hear what you mean about staying on target with your message. Some of my favorite teachers were those who knew the value of tangents and asides, but used them sparingly and always found a way back to the main topic that was organic. It was enthralling and had the same excitement as a stand-up hitting an unexpected, delightful call-back. As for other types of performances, I’ve been fascinated with what’s called alternative comedy, and storytelling fits right in with alt-comedy. I wish I were more of an absurdist, but I find the bravery of honest storytelling appealing, like the work of Louie C.K. and Mike Birbiglia, and hope to do more of it. What are some topics that you hope to explore with your storytelling in the near future?
JP: In the future I’d like to able to blur the lines with storytelling, comedy and more dramatic performance. I’m actually working on a musical comedy project with local artist Tommy Gann and we’re merging storytelling and comedy with his exceptional talents. I’d also like to get out of the character of “science teacher,” as there is a lot of material I can’t seem to do without losing an audience. I also enjoy the idea that an alt-comedy crowd doesn’t come with a set of expectations for the show. If you went down the absurdist path, what might a Chuck Na show look like?
CN: Obviously, any kind of Chuck Na show would have to feature prop comedy, because if there’s one thing America loves, it’s non-sequiturs with visuals. To treat your question seriously, I’ll admit defeat under your endless questioning — I don’t know what absurd means and I was just trying to impress you. Are you not entertained?
JP: Have been nothing if not thoroughly entertained by Chuck Na. See you at the show!