“For so many people, learning is a chore, but laughing is not. If we can combine learning with laughing, you can teach anybody, anything,” says famed American astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who does exactly that as host of the National Geographic talk show StarTalk, which returns on Sunday, Oct. 1 with a new season of facts, laughs and plenty of A-list guests.
While the show regularly features scientific commentary and cosmic queries, it’s all delivered with a comedic punch. And in today’s polarizing political climate, Tyson says “it’s a comedian’s obligation to challenge social, cultural and political norms.” If they are not, then no one is being challenged to think, he adds.
So it makes sense then that so many funny people, including Ben Stiller, Jay Leno, Larry Wilmore and Whoopi Goldberg, have stopped by the show. “When a comedian is on the show as a guest, I don't seek their humor as much as I seek their often-unique perspectives on life, the universe and everything,” Tyson says, adding that if those guests, as well as many of the comedian co-hosts, enjoy being on StarTalk, “it may be because we respect how smart they are even more than how funny they are.”
With StarTalk (featuring comedian co-hosts Chuck Nice, Scott Adsit, Godfrey, Eugene Mirman, Sasheer Zamata and Maeve Higgins) back on the air, Tyson reveals his five favorite (living) comedians to ET:
When it comes to Murphy and Goldberg, Tyson says they both make deep and perceptive observations about how we relate to one another, much like Richard Pryor did before he died.
The View host and former Star Trek actress appeared on StarTalk last season, where they talked about the long-running sci-fi franchise, superheroes and medical marijuana.
While Inside Amy Schumer is on hiatus as the comedian pursues opportunities in film and on Broadway, Tyson says that he finds her “sketch comedy to be particularly insightful regarding the complex relationship between men and women in society. Apparently, I'm not the only one to make this observation since she and her supporting writers on her show won a Peabody Award for this messaging.”
Tyson is a fan of the comedian and Oscar-winning producer and Jerry Seinfeld for the same reasons he likes the late Mitch Hedberg. “[For their] simple yet hysterical observations regarding our everyday conduct,” he says.
While Seinfeld is long over, with no hope of being revived, the veteran comedian is back onscreen with a Netflix stand-up special, Jerry Before Seinfeld.
StarTalk airs Sundays at 11 p.m. ET on National Geographic.