No joking: This biologist left science for a career in comedy

By From page B1 | January 10, 2014

FAIRFIELD —  A PowerPoint presentation with topics such as nuclear fission, language the whole family can hear and delivery without shouting can only describe one comedian.

That comedian, Tim Lee, is coming to Vallejo to kick off a comedy series at the Empress Theatre.

Lee, who earned a doctorate in biology from University of California, Davis, realized science wasn’t the spark he needed in life when he wrote a dissertation.

“I didn’t enjoy the work at all,” he said. “In grad school I wanted to do field work. My adviser needed someone to do the job (of writing the dissertation).”

He was making less than minimum wage. Lee was miserable, he said.

Lee discovered comedy. He’s never regretted the move.

“My personality won’t let me do anything else,” he said.

Steve Martin, Blll Cosby and Bob Newhart make him laugh. So do John Mulaney and Hannibal Burress.

His dream show would feature Martin and Newhart, and maybe Emo Phillips. It would be at Carnegie Hall and Johnny Carson would be resurrected to host the event.

Lee’s comedic style can be found onstage at performances. His scientific style was akin to that of Mr. Spock on “Star Trek,” he said.

“It’s logical,” he said. “And, curious. It’s interesting for me to solve things.”

How close do the characters on TV’s “Big Bang Theory” resemble the scientists Lee knows?

“They are caricatures,” Lee said.

And, he does know someone who resembles the  “Big Bang Theory” star geek Sheldon Cooper.

“I’m not going to name him,” Lee said.

The show is a ratings boon for CBS but Lee said it hasn’t helped him pitch science-based sitcoms.

“You think people would be chomping at the bit for a science sitcom,” he said. “I guess they (the programmers) feel there are so few people who would understand it. That makes them kind of hesitant.”

Lee loves playing in Northern California. It’s where he got his start in comedy. The Bay Area, cool weather and clean air are enticing, he said.

The Vallejo audience will get some PowerPoint and clean, clever humor based on science, Lee said. They’ll also get some straight stand up comedy.

Sharing the bill is Andrew Norelli who  has been featured on the late night shows hosted by David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and Craig Ferguson.

Norelli won the inaugural Las Vegas World Series of Comedy and placed second at the Boston Comedy Festival.

The second show in the series is Feb. 14 and will be hosted by Jason Love and feature Ben Feldman, Maggie Newcomb, Ngaio Bealum, Robin Cee and Tom Davenport.
  • Andrew Norelli, Tim Lee
  • 8 p.m. Jan. 17
  • Empress Theatre, 330 Virginia St., Vallejo
  • 552-2400
  • www.empresstheatre.org
  • http://andrewnorelli.webs.com or  http://www.scientistturnedcomedian.com
Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey

Amy Maginnis-Honey joined the staff of the Daily Republic in 1980. She’ll tell you she was only 3 at the time. Over the past three decades she’s done a variety of jobs in the newsroom. Today, she covers arts and entertainment and writes for the Living and news pages.

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