Within moments of appearing in Netflix’s new series Bill Nye Saves The World, Joanna Hausmann is terrified, lying flat on her back while a sound therapist with thinning hair yells into her stomach. The Venezuelan-American comic was recruited by Nye’s team to lend her personal brand of informative comedy to the difficult and uncomfortable science topics the show planned to explore, like dealing with pseudoscientific quacks. By presenting her skepticism as humor, she opens up a conversation where condemnation could easily suffice.
Hausmann mastered the art of diffusing serious issues with comedy on her personal YouTube series, in which she tackles heavy political subjects, like anti-immigration and violence, with hilarity and delicacy. But it wasn’t until she worked with Nye that she realized that scientific issues were similarly grave and could likewise use a humorous touch. On the phone with Inverse, she talked about the crossroads of science and politics, what she learned about male birth control on the show, and what it’s actually like working with Bill.
How do you go from being a YouTube comic to Bill Nye’s special correspondent?
This guy who claimed to be a producer in Los Angeles said he wanted to hop on a call. I was like, “This is the most B.S. e-mail I’ve ever received.” But I was bored at work that day and gave him a call. He said, “Listen, I can’t tell you anything about this show. All I can say is that I think you’re very funny, and I think you do a good job explaining complex things in simple ways. I can’t tell you anything else about this show other than the fact that it’s science comedy, and it’s not a network.” It sounded like, legitimately, the least legitimate thing in the world.
And then lo and behold, the next day I sign on to Facebook, and 14 of my friends shared “Bill Nye’s coming back!” Two weeks later, they were flying me out to San Francisco to interview that guy about sound therapy.
What was it like making the switch from political comedy to science comedy?
When I started in the writer’s room, and I was sitting there with an astrophysicist and a specialist in how the brain functions, I was surrounded by people who were experts in things that I personally was not privy to. At first it was frightening, to be honest with you, but then I realized, hey, informing people is informing people, whether that’s politics, culture, or science. That’s my passion, and that’s what I think makes people better people.
What science topics did you have to study for the show?
I really loved learning about how much research is going into male contraception. What I learned is that men are very irked and not willing to put up with the side effects that are so pervasive in female contraception. There are options for men, with very few side effects, that don’t exist for women. There are no simple options for women. But for men, there are reversible, easy, non-hormonal treatments that could really, really change the way that we perceive the responsibility of birth control.
That’s a science topic not everyone is willing to talk about.
I was met with hesitation from the people I interviewed — that’s when the societal effect kept creeping in, which is what this show is about. It’s not just about science, and it’s not just about the facts, but it’s how society intermingles with these facts. Learning about it was amazing, but seeing the reaction of people made me a little sad.
Were you happy with the way you got to explore the societal impact of science?
Yes I’m happy, because I think humor helps us point out what we need to change. Humor does a good job in making uncomfortable situations weirdly conversational. If we had gone about doing that segment in a non-comical way, I would have been sad with the results. The comedy of it humanizes it. It points out the societal things that need to change in a comical way — in a way that isn’t overstating the fact, or on the nose.
Do you worry that the show won’t reach the people who need it most?
I’ve learned that there are some people who are absolutely hopeless. But that doesn’t mean that the conversation is hopeless. I don’t know if that guy’s gonna watch it, but maybe that guy’s sister watches it, and then at Thanksgiving, she’s going to tell him the facts about global warming or GMOs. I think this show is not just about changing people’s minds. I think this show is also about giving people the tools and the ammunition to have these conversations in their day to day life in a more succinct and factual way.
What’s the biggest difference in discussing politics and culture versus science?
I knew [science] was polarized, but I didn’t know how polarized until I started listening to the scientists in the writer’s room and Bill talk. We had experienced very similar things, in different worlds. I experienced it as an immigrant and as someone who talks about politics, and they experience it talking about science. You guys have facts, though! Mine are more opinions.
But it’s relieving to know that there are people like Bill who are trying to fight against cognitive dissonance and ignorance. And it relieves me that he’s trying to do it in this way — and including people like me — in his fight. I’m humbled by it, but I also feel like it helps drive the point across that it’s not just for scientists. It’s for human beings. We all need to know these things.