“If you don’t get Emily Levine’s smart comedy, you’re an idiot.” – Matt Groening
Harvard grad Emily Levine does for science what Jon Stewart does for news: she critiques it, she makes it relevant and she makes it funny. Whether as a comedian, a writer, a radio commentator and/or speaker, Emily updates her audience on Big Ideas from science and shows how these Ideas suggest changes in our social institutions, our business practices, even our everyday behavior. Now that recent studies show that humor primes the brain for those big leaps we know as “aha” moments, there is actual proof beyond the standing ovations that Emily’s brand of Big Ideas and Big Laughs can provoke and inspire as well as entertain.
Emily Levine graduated cum laude from Harvard with no idea what to do, so she moved to Rome and dubbed spaghetti westerns; moved to Brooklyn and taught autistic children, then joined an improvisational comedy group called “The New York City Stickball Team”, wrote and performed an Emmy-award winning series of skits on TV; and became a comedian. The Los Angeles Times called her “a stand-out as a stand-up.” Newsweek called her “one of the new queens of comedy.” Her mother called her every week.
But as stand-up became less satisfying — not to mention less lucrative — Emily became a television writer/producer, working on shows such as “Designing Women“, “Love and War” and “Dangerous Minds“. Under overall deals at Universal Studios and The Walt Disney Company, she created and produced pilots for new situation comedies for CBS, NBC, ABC and HBO. But then, for no reason — well, there was a brain tumor but she didn’t know it at the time — she started having Big Ideas. Ideas that none of the Disney executives, let alone Goofy and Mickey, wanted to discuss.
Serendipitously, she was invited to speak at two think tanks: for the first, sponsored by USC’s Institute for the Study of Women and Men, she spoke on “Beyond Either/Or”. For the second, a physicists’ think tank in La Jolla, Emily read up on physics and discovered the quantum logic of And-And. This was her first big Aha-ha! Moment. Emily realized she didn’t have to make an Either/Or choice — she could be smart and funny. Entertaining and enlightening. A comedian and a philosopher.
The marriage of Emily’s brain with her funny-bone has resulted in her Big Ideas going viral: “You touched all 1000 of our most senior executives in our audience, who are now taking your messages to all 100,000 of our people” (Brian Perkins, Johnson & Johnson); “Your ‘And-And’ became the meme of the entire conference” (Esther Dyson at PC Forum); her TED talk has over 1.5 million hits and she was recently voted one of the all-time top TED speakers. Emily also does the wrap-up for conferences, synthesizing the ideas and themes that emerged along the way. In her latest incarnation as “The Oracle”, Emily delights audiences by plucking their previously submitted questions from a Bingo canister and answering them off the top of her head.
Currently, Emily is in post-production on a movie, “Emily @ the Edge of Chaos” and preparing the launch of a trans-media project called “Emily’s Universe University“. Both projects share a common mission: using comedy, animations, celebrity guests and visual effects to make science accessible and using science to shift us from Old Think to New Think, from the Law of Gravity to the Law of Levity, from the fear of change to an embrace of the challenges ahead.
Why did you stop writing television?
First of all, I never liked writing television; second of all, I never knew what studio and network executives meant by “real.” My career was before the advent of “reality TV”, when to me the whole point of TV was that it wasn’t real, but no, the only time they didn’t want “real” was if it interfered with “likable.” A female character who didn’t want to be a mother or get married was “unlikable.” Actually, in their view, she was also not “real.” You can see why I got confused. Finally, when I was told for the umpteenth time that a story for a prospective script wasn’t “real” enough, I asked the studio executive what he would consider “real.” But when he pitched me his story, it was so outlandish I had to ask him, outright, what made his story more real than mine. “Well,” he said, “at least with my story, you’ve seen it before on TV.”
Are you a scientist?
No, although once a famous leadership guru, generously recommending me to the Harvard Business School as a possible speaker, described me as a “Harvard-trained physicist”. It’s an easy mistake since I understand everything about science except the actual science part which is math. I was taught to read and do math at the same time, so at six, reading “Snow White and the Seven Dwarves”, it became rapidly obvious that there were only two kinds of men in the world, dwarves and Prince Charmings, and the odds of my getting the Prince were seven to one. That’s why little girls don’t do math — it’s too depressing.
Are you a Lesbian?
The same famous business guru who described me as a “Harvard-educated physicist” also said I was a Lesbian, so I might as well clear this one up as well. I am not a Lesbian. Not that I have anything against Lesbians, but Lesbian relationships are like all other relationships in one crucial regard: they involve another person who will sooner or later want you to pick them up at the airport.
Will you read my movie/half-hour comedy/hour-long drama script?