What do you get when you mix homegrown science videos, an expert comedian, and experiments made for your garage? Discover Magazine’s new web television show, Joe Genius.
We chat with Jonah Ray, the show’s host, about the show, his start in comedy, and his favorite video games.
Discover Magazine: Could you describe your road to Joe Genius? How did you get your start as a comedian?
Jonah Ray: When I was 19, I moved from Hawaii ["born and raised"] to Los Angeles to do comedy…. I started just working at record stores and being a roadie for my friends’ bands, going on little tours. It took about a year to realize that was a horrible life! (laughs) I looked into some open mics in the LA Weekly and started going almost every night.
Discover: How did stand-up lead to your other work?
Ray: I started doing stand-up primarily. UCB [Upright Citizen’s Brigade, a sketch group] opened out here in LA, and I started taking some classes. Just from doing stand-up, I got more attention from people. I became a writer’s assistant on The Andy Milonakis Show which was a sketch show on MTV. I was really bad at it—so they fired me–but during the same conversation they hired me back as a writer. That’s what started my writing career in comedy. Shortly after that, I did Live at Gotham show and stand-up on Comedy Central. I started working on a web series called the The Freeloaders Guide to Easy Living on a site called Super Deluxe which was an offshoot of Adult Swim…. I did some writing and performing on Human Giant which is a sketch show on MTV. I also started performing and writing on more shows on G4.
In comedy, in the beginning it feels like one thing will always beget another. Really it’s about doing everything you can all the time trying to push yourself and being prepared when things come up. That’s usually how it happens. It’s kind of a mishmash of finding work where you can and doing the best job you can.
Discover: How is Joe Genius different from your previous work?
Ray: It’s more factual than anything I’ve ever done. That’s fun and exciting. I pretty much have been in the business of not taking anything seriously, and making fun of everything. . . Although, I do get to just be myself on the show, I still have to make sure the science is correct.
Discover: Any geeky secrets from your past? Favorite video games, role-playing games, action figure collections?
Ray: Growing up, I collected puppets and dummies. I had a Groucho Marx dummy, an Old Man Muppet (laughs), some different things to entertain my small cousins. Currently, my favorite video game of all time is Resident Evil 4, Wii edition. If we’re talking pure playability and frustration, I’m going to have to go with Sega Genesis’s Ghost and Goblins, which is one of the hardest games. But, I’m also always a sucker for MegaMan 2, and Super Mario World.
Discover: Did you like science class growing up?
Ray: I’ve always enjoyed science class, because you were always doing things…. I actually also learned a lot of science from Cosmos with Carl Sagan, Bill Nye, Beekman’s World, and Mr. Wizard. Those were shows that I always tuned into.
Discover: Any particular types of science experiments that you really loved?
Ray: I was always interested in rocket propulsion … concentrated, directed explosions. While out here [in LA], I got really interested in this one girl because I found out that she worked for JPL [NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory] in Pasadena. I pursued her pretty hard. I don’t think she even did sciencey things there … but the fact that she worked at JPL really got me going. It didn’t work out. (laughs) I think she preferred scientists over struggling comedians.
Discover: One early commenter said, after watching Joe Genius, that it was like the show was a concentrated version of all the good parts of a MacGyver episode. Did you have any favorite science shows growing up?
Ray: I used to go to school always wearing Mystery Science Theater 3000 t-shirts. I was obsessed…. It was the opportunity to watch all of these horrible science fiction movies, but it was like I was watching them with friends: Tom Servo, Crow, and Mike. That was most of the science fiction that I watched as a kid. It wasn’t for a lack of enjoying other science fiction. I was definitely a Star Wars kid–it’s just I was also really into comedy.
Discover: Could you tell us a little bit what it’s like to film an episode of Joe Genius?
Ray: It’s pretty grueling! But everyone who works on the show is awesome. There is a lot of stuff to go through: trying to makes the shows right, trying to make them funny, but everyone on staff was really funny and fun to have around. There was actually a lot of goofing off. So much so that sometimes someone would just have to say, “Shut up! Let’s focus.” … Yeah, it was a blast.
Discover: How do you pick out the Joe Genius award?
Ray: We try to pick out the video that’s not only the coolest to watch, but also the most interesting. One that’s simple, unexpected, and that you’re able to do at home. We’re searching for kind of a callout to the people watching: “This is cool because you can do it too.”
Discover: Can we get a peek at upcoming episodes? Upcoming favorites clips and themes?
Ray: The gravity episode is pretty awesome and painful at parts [lots of people almost hurting themselves]. I also failed some of the experiments in future episodes too. In one, I tried to drop a bunch of Mentos into a Diet Coke and I didn’t get to putting the cap on in time…. That was a little bit embarrassing. I thought my hands were quicker than they were! There are a lot of fun, really crazy videos coming up.
Check out Joe Genius on Facebook.