Michael Stevens and Adam Savage are both known for being two of the greatest public educators around. Stevens teaches tens of millions with his YouTube channel, Vsauce, where he explains science, philosophy, illusions and much more. Meanwhile, Savage has risen to near household-name fame with MythBusters, a show full of science, special effects and skepticism. Brain Candy Live! brings the duo’s knowledge and passions together to create a live show unlike any other, and it’s coming to Miller Auditorium this month.
We talked with Stevens about what to expect, why learning is important and what exactly “brain candy” means.
What made you want to go live in the first place?
There’s so many things that just don’t come across or aren’t explained well unless you’re physically there, and you can actually hear and see and smell the thing. Plus, live is a lot more personal and authentic — it’s not scripted, and it’s not edited. It feels a lot more like a conversation, and you can see sides of us that you wouldn’t see in a more meticulously edited video.
What does ‘brain candy’ mean to you?
Brain Candy is when you learn something, anything, and all of a sudden, you just go, ‘Whoa! Oh my gosh, of course!’ It’s nutritious — it’s something that you’ve learned — but it’s delicious as well. It’s brain food, but you want to share it and everyone wants it and they want more of it.
How did you go about designing the show?
We talked for a long time about what kinds of things you would want to do on a stage, where things can be bigger and we can travel with props. We worked with a director, Michael Weber, who was fantastic … and it emerged that air was going to be the right theme for this first version. Air is very cool. You can do cool science with it, and it’s free and it surrounds us at all times. We really want the audience to leave having learned a lot, but also having gathered new skills so they can do what we did onstage at home — they’ll still be surrounded by air when they get home. There’s no artifice or mystery behind it. You can see how it was built and what it’s made of.
How has the show changed since you started this spring?
The show keeps improving every time we do it. We’ve had time to add some new things on the same theme and perfect and update, even as new science comes, in particular new things we’ve learned about dinosaurs. We’ve actually had to change the script now that we know more about — is gasoline really made out of dinosaurs? As it turns out, pretty much no! It’s such a bummer, right? We’re updating that, and some of the science we do with vacuums because we’ve got new props which are bigger and cooler.
What’s your favorite part of the show?
I would say it’s the meet and greets after the show. You really get to hear their reactions right after the show, and you also get to meet them and hear their stories and get a sense of who they are. Especially when you’re doing YouTube videos or a television show, you don’t see the audience. … I also love right before I come on stage. Just hearing the excitement in the audience is really cool, because I’ve done this show 40-some times, but every new city means an audience that hasn’t seen it. And when I hear them applaud and the music starts, I’m like, ‘Whoa, whoa, whoa! This is new to them. They haven’t even seen this yet. Just wait until you guys get to see this.’
Do you have plans for the next show after this?
We’re already talking about the next theme. A couple ideas are math without numbers, that could be really cool, but then also electricity. We’d love to be able to do electricity in some way. Adam knows more about it than I do, but I want to dive in and learn it well enough to explain it and get our mutual curiosity super contagious. It would be safe, but it would look super dangerous.
Who should come see this show?
It’s for people who love learning, but actually, I’d like for people to come who think learning is boring and involves homework. That’s a big stereotype that we break down in the show. You don’t have to be some kind of egg-head nerd who’s socially awkward and loves school to love learning. We all do, we can’t help it. Curiosity is part of our DNA. When you learn to appreciate the pleasure of finding things out, you become a better person and a better citizen. It’s good for the world.
Without giving too much away, what can people expect from the show?
There are explosions. There are ping-pong balls that fly out into the audience. There’s a lot of wind being blown, diaper bags, competitions between audience members, a lot of chances to come up onstage. There’s interpretive dance showing how molecules vibrate and what causes pressure. There’s boiling water and a lot of smoke. It’s kind of a cool look at theater and how special effects are done and the physics behind why they work. It’s just really energetic. I lost weight this spring, just because (I do) a lot of dancing. If you’re a big fan of us, you’re going to be really surprised, and if you’ve never heard of us before, you’re going to have a lot of fun and want to come back when we come through your city again.
Brain Candy Live!
1341 Theatre Dr., Kalamazoo
Nov. 29, 7:30 p.m.