Neil deGrasse Tyson’s office at the Hayden Planetarium at New York’s American Museum of Natural History, which he’s been the director of since 1996, is as eclectic as the man himself. After all, this is an astrophysicist who was a Complex cover star and has been in a genuine rap beef with B.o.B. with a legit diss track to boot. Along one wall is a set of bookcases with all the dusty, thick science books you’d expect a man like him to have, as well as an array of shiny awards. But there’s also an unopened box of universe themed Band-Aids, a black baseball cap with “BRONX” embroidered along the front in big white letters, and several bottles of red wine. Behind his desk is a large copy of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. The lights are dimmed except for a set of twinkly lights wrapped around a floor lamp.
I am here to talk about StarTalk, deGrasse Tyson’s radio show turned podcast turned three-time Emmy nominated television late night talk show airing on the National Geographic channel; Season 4 premieres on October 1. Think of it as a mashup between The Daily Show and the best science class you ever had: deGrasse Tyson interviews celebrities of all kinds about how their life has touched science. He’s the kind of friendly interviewer who easily finds pockets of cross-sectional knowledge, like the physics of Kareem Abdul Jabbar’s sky hook or if Katy Perry meant her song “E.T.” literally, so his interviews explore little known aspects of a particular celebrity’s life. Bits of the interview are broken up and discussed by deGrasse Tyson and two guests, often another scientist and a comedian, in front of a live studio audience.
StarTalk is, in a sense, a perfect representation of deGrasse Tyson’s public persona. Yes, he’s our official Science Dad, nerdy and goofy all at once, but he’s also able to use his unique pop culture presence to service his ultimate goal: education. I asked him about how StarTalk’s celebrity guests fits into this vision, whether he even wants to be a pop culture icon, and how he’d school Trump on climate change.