What do you get when you mix science and comedy? Kaboom! Or, Doktor Kaboom!, that is.
“Doktor Kaboom! is a German scientist who has an over-the-top passion for both the subject and the audience,” said David Epley, who created the character more than a decade ago with a mission to change the way people view science.
He will perform a comedic routine full of science demonstrations at 2:30 p.m. Sunday in the Amphitheater as part of the Family Entertainment Series.
Epley said his shows always include “a lot of character-driven improvisation” and interaction between the exuberant Doktor and the audience. One of the props – or scientific utensils, if you will – that Doktor Kaboom! will employ in his show is a vortex generator that used to be a 55-gallon drum. Another, which he calls his favorite experiment, involves a catapult, testing the hypothesis that “the catapult was not invented for war, but as a way to feed people.”
To test it, as with many of his experiments, he invites a child onstage. Making them “the hero of the moment” is how Epley implements personal empowerment into his shows.
“I look for any opportunity to teach children to speak well of themselves, to think well of themselves and to understand that science is for everybody,” he said.
Epley said he had initially made a promise not to do routines that he thought were “too common.” Yet, he soon realized a significant number of people have not seen “the most basic of science demonstrations” they have read about them, but not carried the experiments out themselves. This, he said, may be because “culturally, we believe that science is only for certain people,” which is damaging. While some may believe that science is hard, Epley disagrees. He said it takes effort.
“We’ve started thinking … as things have become easier and easier, that if we have to work at something that means it’s difficult. … I think that just means it’s worth doing,” he said.
The props Dr. Kaboom! uses in his shows are all made by the doctor himself, by hand. One of Epley’s ambitions is to make people want to redo the experiments on their own.
“Science is like Shakespeare – it’s not meant to be read; it’s meant to be done,” he said.
Through interactions on Facebook, where he usually connects with audiences after his shows, Epley said he has learned that a lot of children and their parents try out his experiments, with some creating their own routines and others dressing up as Dr. Kaboom! for Halloween.
One of the features that makes Dr. Kaboom! stand out is his German accent. Epley said when he first began performing 16 years ago, he wanted the character to be “bigger than life,” more memorable than Epley himself.
Nothing “jumped out as energetic and huge” as a German-sounding scientist, he said. Since that time, countless exclamations of “Ja!” and “Kaboom!” are an indispensable part of his show.
Epley said Dr. Kaboom! was inspired by three people: 1950s kids’ TV host Mr. Wizard, Mister Rogers who, taught people “how to be decent human beings, or how to remember to be human beings,” and his high-school physics professor at the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics.
It was there where Epley nurtured his passion for science with a bit of whimsy, since the campus had the internet “before the internet” and the mascot was a unicorn.
Being Dr. Kaboom! and teaching science through comedy has been the most fulfilling work he has ever done.
Just like science, comedy is also for everyone, not just for kids.
“I will make sure that everybody who comes to my show will laugh and learn something,” Epley said.