If you grew up on “Mr. Wizard” and conducted science experiments in your basement, Nat Geo has the show for you. Widely held beliefs, urban legends, and oddball hypotheses are put to the test in “Duck Quacks Don’t Echo,” premiering on National Geographic Channel on January 13 with two back-to-back episodes, following “Brain Games.”
Based on a British TV pilot and hosted by comedians Tom Papa, Michael Ian Black and Seth Herzog, it’s the lighter side of science, staging experiments to prove or disprove such notions as, does wearing the color red make a woman more attractive? Does swearing increase one’s tolerance for pain? And does the bathroom stall closest to the exit have the least amount of germs?
“It's stuff you've heard, but you don't really know if it's true or not. We have scientists come up with the facts, and we have comedians delivering it — it’s a science show and comedy is the icing on the cake,” says Papa, who had a blast testing and racing a homemade hovercraft (a lawn chair powered by a fire extinguisher), aiming an anvil at Herzog’s head, and watching him try not to sink in a tub of Jell-o pudding.
Other experiments include rolling a human guinea pig in bubble wrap and dropping him from the ceiling and Crazy Glue-ing Herzog’s and Black’s shoes and suspending them upside down to test the adhesive’s hold. Papa was surprised to learn that the first public bathroom stall is the cleanest because people tend not to choose it, and that a cow will produce more milk if it feels that you like it. Continuing in the animal vein, “If you yawn in front of a dog, it will yawn back at you from empathy. I sat there with a French bulldog — I’d yawn and he’d yawn back at me. I felt dumb doing it but this stuff is pretty informative.”
For instance, who knew that germs can jump from a toilet to your toothbrush six feet away? (Eww!) And four ceramic coffee cups can support the weight of a flatbed truck, with people standing in it? Pretty impressive. Some of the experiments are of the “don’t try this at home” ilk, but others are safe, fun, and good for impressing friends at parties. Try drawing the number six on a pad at the same time you rotate the leg on the same side clockwise. Or try to eat six saltine crackers in a minute without sipping water. Both are impossible, Papa points out.
A stand-up veteran and actor who previously hosted Jerry Seinfeld’s “The Marriage Ref,” the married father of two impressed his kids, ages 8 and 11, with what he learned on the job, which he feels his comedy background particularly suited him for. “Comedians’ brains are very scientific. You’re always observing, always analyzing, digesting stuff and trying to figure it out. We’re always studying human nature. So it kind of made sense,” he says. None of the three hosts knew each other, “But when we got on the set I knew it would work because we were all interested in the facts that were presented, really curious.”
Papa, now on Netflix in an hour-long comedy special called “Freaked Out,” has a CBS sitcom pilot in development called “More Time With Family,” about a man who decides not to travel so much to spend more time with his wife and kids, only to discover they don’t want him around. Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, with whom Papa appeared in “The Informant!” and “Behind the Candelabra,” are producing it.
Most of the experiments performed on “Duck Quacks Don’t Echo” lead to definitive answers, proving or debunking a hypothesis, Papa assures. But, rather ironically, the jury is still out on those titular waterfowl. “There's this huge debate on the Internet, people saying ‘no, they don’t’ or ‘yes, they do.’ I do believe duck quacks echo, though many people don’t. But that’s what the show is. It’s really all about getting your brain going and making you curious."
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