Phill Jupitus is an English stand-up and improvisational comedian, actor, performance poet and cartoonist. He has been a team captain on BBC Two’s popular music quiz ‘Never Mind the Buzzcocks’ since its inception in 1996 and also appears regularly as a guest on several other panel shows, including ‘QI’ and BBC Radio 4’s ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’.
I like my scientists in white coats. I like them gimpy. And I like them with glasses.
On becoming interested in science
I couldn’t work out how planes worked. I really couldn’t. The principle of aerodynamics really eluded me. I couldn’t understand…I always used to, I mean, I could see how ships floated even though they were metal, I could see how you could make metal float by making a big bowl out of it. That was a concept I understood, but aerodynamics eluded me and so, this I reckon would be between five and six, and I couldn’t understand how planes work. And I used to make paper planes, and mine wouldn’t fly, and then my cousins would make more complicated ones that would fly, but I was a very bad folder and so I think due to poor folding skills science eluded me longer than it should. When I was a child we didn’t have the internet to discover things, obviously, but we did have comics. So I found out about flying from reading ‘War Picture Library’ and ‘Battle’ so I only knew about flying if you were shooting down Nazis.
On my science hero
Science heroes is a very difficult one because they’re quite dry, dull people, scientists. This whole business now of making them rock and roll stars now, I don’t agree with and I don’t approve of. I think that Professor Brian should just take a step back and take a good long look at himself. He’s not Keith Richards. He’s a very talented astrophysicist and he should…look, stick with what you know. I like my scientists in white coats. I like them gimpy. And I like them with glasses. That said, I’m gonna go with Gregor Mendel because he was a monk and that can’t have been an easy gig being a monk scientist. Talk about conflict. Whoa. And just…Gregor Mendel, there, hunched over his peas, ‘Slightly bigger leaf. Small pea. Slightly bigger leaf. Small pea. Slightly bigger leaf. Big pea.’ FOR FOUR OR FIVE YEARS. Just, ‘Here’s more peas’. Do you think he got sick of peas? Fact, though, I happen to know that Mendel was…he did OK out of that, because Gregor Mendel is the inventor of mushy peas. He would pound them with his fist after a frustrating evening of religion-slash-science and personal conflict. This is all true. What I’m telling you. You can’t lie on a science app.
On the joy of science
The joy of science is, you see it in the faces of those tiny scientists, it’s, it’s in discovery. There’s nothing better than discovery. It doesn’t matter if you’re discovering a great painting, it doesn’t matter if you’re discovering, you know, a fantastic piece of music, it doesn’t matter if you’re discovering, you know, the Higgs Boson. Discovery is sexy. Curiosity is sexy. Scientists are curious people. Scientists are sexy. There, I said it.
People that are saying that science, in some way, with its current popularity, is being vulgarised by that popularity are ugly scientists. I know little about science but what I do know about is whimsy. And you’re getting it. Also, what are you green screening behind me? I’m very aware that I’m in front of a green screen. I mean, am I doing the Nuremberg Rally now? Are there just thousands of Nazis watching me going, ‘Yeah, good ideas’. Or is it just Cox behind me?
And that will end up in Viz.
Anyway, I think the popularity of science and that scientists are now no longer afraid of using complicated language is that, I mean…science in the old days, 20 years ago on television and in the media, the first thing you had to do was come up with an incredibly pin headed analogy of scientific theories in order to explain them to people but, kind of, it’s a bit like you’re having to watch films without subtitles now, eventually you will learn French. It’s a bit like…I really enjoy ‘In Our Time’ on Radio 4 on a Thursday morning. I can’t understand a fucking word of it but I still enjoy that bounce of it. And the thing is, eventually things will go in and that’s the point of learning. You hear things you don’t understand and so you ask questions. That is the point of science. What I love about science and what I love about Robin, and Brian, and these gigs [Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People] is, is, the two best things about the people involved in these shows is curiosity and doubt. I hate certainty. Certainty is, you know, people saying, ‘It’s this’. People think scientists say, ‘It’s this’, but scientists don’t. Scientists posit different and radically variable ideas on things and that’s what I like about science is the doubt.
On science’s role in his life
I think, kind of, to let science into your life you have to be willing to ask questions of things. The reliance on micro technology at the moment without understanding how it works, I wish it was a bit more like it was in the early days with computers where to get a computer you had to build one. But sadly Steve Jobs and Bill Gates have seen to that for us. And eventually when our Chinese overlords are ruling us we will rue the day we stopped making our own kit. You know, let’s hear it for the ZX Spectrum. Come on. Let’s hear it for the Commodore 64. Go 8 Bit.
I think the importance of continuing to maintain a healthy curiosity about science is that…I’m 50, and, you don’t know everything. It just reminds you of your own, mortality is the wrong word, but your own frailties and your own restrictions and it’s good to know that, you know, I can’t imagine anything worse than knowing everything. Hey, Brian. So, you know, I think it’s very, very good to want to know more about stuff and science gives you that limitless playground of things to find out about. But you’ve got to temper that with things that are discovered, it’s a bit like, poor old, poor old Einstein. You discover, or you come up with, E=MC² and then look what they did with it. So discovery is a double-edged sword. I prefer the curiosity. Sometimes the discovery can make you go, ‘Oooh shit’, but the curiosity that got you there is the good thing I think, whereas the discovery can sometimes be, ‘Oh…that’. Something that’s not said often enough in science, in anthropology really, as a more general theory about people really, is that people are dicks. I think there should be more papers on why people are dicks. Because people are dicks. You’ve probably observed it today. People are dicks.
People are dicks. Go 8 bit. That’s the merch I’m knocking out for next year’s gigs.