CAMBRIDGE — “Humor is something that is extremely human.” Zach Weinersmith explains on the lawn of M.I.T. “If we were ever visited by aliens, they would most likely have science, ethics, and philosophy, but there’s a chance that humor is something unique to us.”
Humor, along with science, ethics, and philosophy, are central themes of Weinersmith’s life. As the writer and illustrator of Saturday Morning Breakfast Cereal, Zach posts daily jabs and satires around several aspects of academia. On October 6, this sense of humor was brought to the stage of M.I.T’s Kresge Auditorium in what was dubbed the Bad Ad Hoc (or B.A.H!) Festival; a contest to see what member of the scientific community could come up with the best “well-argued and thoroughly researched but completely incorrect evolutionary theory.” This bizarre contest was inspired by a comic of Zach’s, in which a theory that infants are designed to be aerodynamic wins an award of Charles Darwin looking doubtful.
“After I made the comic I got a bunch of requests for the contest to become a reality.” said Weinersmith. “My publishing company Breadpig took care of the location for me and we had it all set up very quickly.”
While interest and set up for B.A.H! went smoothly enough, the competition had its fair share of setbacks.
“We had everything set up for April 18th 2013, which ended up being the date of the manhunt for the Tsarnaev brothers.” Weinersmith remembers. “We of course rescheduled for the next academic term and ended up at Kresge Hall, which was a much better venue than we originally had.”
Weinersmith, along with B.A.H!’s host Ben Lillie of The Story Collider, are part of a boom in scientific interest in today’s pop culture. While some people have questioned the validity of this trend, Weinersmith remains optimistic that the attention outweighs any negative aspects.
“There’s definitely some danger in people only taking tidbits from memes and Facebook posts, but all and all I think it’s a good thing people are interested.” Weinersmith told Blast. “I would hope that there are enough filters for false information online, but getting people looking into different facts and studies is definitely something worth celebrating. It’s like high school; you don’t have kids learn trigonometry and algebra so they can all be mathematicians. You do it so they have some proficiency in the subjects.”
The contestants of B.A.H! had more than some proficiency in their subjects. The roster of contestants included pediatrician Dr. Edward Chung presenting on how Lyme Disease is actually an evolutionary calling for people to stay inside and become nerds, Cornell PhD candidate Stacy Farina theorizing that fish’s low intelligence is a natural protection against existential crisis, among several other high ranking academic minds. The winner, published author and M.I.T. graduate Tomer Ullman, took home the “Shrugging Darwin” with his presentation on how screaming babies were used as adrenaline boosters in ancient societies. The contest, which Weinersmith originally believed would draw at most 200 people, was an extremely surprising success.
“We sold almost 900 tickets.” said Weinersmith. “B.A.H! Fest has been a big thing for me and I’m hoping we can make it an annual thing.”
Outside of planning for the next B.A.H! Fest and working on several projects including his daily webcomic, Zach and his wife, University of California PhD student Kelly Weinersmith, are expecting their first child. Zach says, while he has high hopes for his child’s education, he wants to be careful on how he influences his future son/daughter.
“As far as my own future children go, I’m not going to try and make him/her be anything that they don’t want to be.” Weinsmith said, crossing his fingers. “I think it’s an easy trap for even well meaning parents to fall into so I hope I can avoid it. As far as the schools go, it’s hard for me to gage the state of the education system because I walk in a lot of academic circles so everything I see says it’s working fine. This country still has the top 50 universities in the world. In fact, I think one of the problems might be that we are producing more skilled people than there are jobs for them to do.”
When asked about projects outside of his regular postings, Zach said his newest output is something he finds inevitable for a person in his profession.
“I can’t talk much about it, but I’m working on a children’s book.” Weinersmith said in a way that made it sound like he’d been caught. “It’s like a built in thing that every cartoonist has to do.”