Professor McClennen to appear on ‘StarTalk’ with Neil deGrasse Tyson

Professor Sophia McClennen
Professor Sophia McClennen

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- School of International Affairs professor Sophia McClennen will join famed astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson as a guest on “StarTalk” on the National Geographic Channel on Sunday, Jan. 7, at 11 p.m. for a discussion about Stephen Colbert and the importance and power of political satire.

McClennen, author of Colbert’s America: Satire and Democracy and Is Satire Saving our Nation? Mockery and American Politics, will appear alongside comedian Adam Conover of the television show “Adam Ruins Everything” to discuss Colbert’s influence on satire and comedy, including the role satire now plays in the Trump administration.

“One of the things we talked about is the impact satire has on brain function,” McClennen said. “It was interesting to Neil how satire requires higher critical thinking functions, to decipher when a satirist is saying something other than what they mean. That’s something I write about a lot—that satire is more about helping people stay smart than it is a political position.”

McClennen, who often writes about political satire in the Trump era in her weekly column at Salon, said it was an exciting honor to be invited to join Tyson on his Emmy-nominated talk show. Episodes often feature Tyson discussing science, pop culture, and current events with two guests, typically a comedian and an expert on the topic at hand.

“That fact that he also had Adam Conover on this episode was a perfect pairing, not only because I’m a big fan and my kids are super psyched, but because, perhaps more than any other comedian, he is a comedian in search of truth,” McClennen said of the “Adam Ruins Everything” star, who uses comedy to debunk popular myths and misconceptions. “His comedy is about helping people be smarter about how they live.”

McClennen said filming the episode at the Hayden Planetarium in front of a live audience was an unforgettable experience.

“Both Neil and Adam were super easygoing and great to work with,” McClennen said. “It was very friendly, very fun, and I felt we had good dynamic on set.”

In addition to her scholarly work and Salon column, McClennen has spoken on the intersection of satire, politics, and media at the invitation of government, academic, and professional bodies around the world. She also frequently joins news outlets like Vox, whose video “Comedians have figured out the trick to covering Trump,” featuring McClennen, went viral and became their most-viewed video ever.