Stephen Colbert’s favorite current topic is President Trump. And Bill Nye’s favorite current topic is climate change. So it made sense that when the two engaged in a public conversation Saturday at the Wellmont Theater, as part of the Montclair Film Festival, Trump’s stance on climate change came up.
“You think you might have a way to persuade President Trump to take climate change seriously. What is it?” Montclair resident Colbert asked Nye.
At first, Nye, 61, went off on a tangent about his own work as a comedy writer in the past, and Colbert’s Trump Era monologues (“Dude, you’re killing it!” he said). But then he got around to answering the question.
Nye said that Trump still hasn’t appointed a NASA administrator. “We think we can get to the president through space exploration,” he continued. “If he, for example, gets one of his science people to run NASA, then we think we can get to him about all sorts of other science issues. Because there’s some evidence that suggests that the President changes his mind (often) …”
“So just make sure the scientist is the last guy in the room,” Colbert deadpanned.
The two talked after a screening of the new documentary “Bill Nye: Science Guy,” which looks at Nye’s life and unique career as a science educator with an emphasis on two current pursuits: His efforts to sound the alarm on climate change, and his leadership role at the Planetary Society, which has developed a small, solar-powered spacecraft.
The movie itself, though a bit too long, has some fascinating segments, including a disconcerting trip to Greenland, where Nye sees a glacier collapsing before his very eyes; and contentious encounters with weatherman/climate change denier Joe Bastardi and creationist Bill Ham. The camera follows an aghast Nye to Ham’s family-oriented Creation Museum in Kentucky and its sister attraction, a life-sized Noah’s Ark museum, where scientific inaccuracies (like humans co-existing with dinosaurs) abound.
We also get a sense of Nye’s difficult family life, growing up; watch him interact with two siblings (who both suffer from ataxia, which runs in the family) and friends; and see the way that fans, and especially children, light up when they are around him. Several adult fans gush that it was Nye’s TV show that inspired them to become scientists.
It wasn’t always an easy path for Nye. In one segment, we see him gamely trying to make it through a corny, amateurish TV show that was a predecessor to his better and more successful one. Asked by Colbert what part of the film was difficult for him to watch, he talked about that one.
Colbert also asked Nye what he has seen achieved by technology in his lifetime that still seems magical to him.
“My phone tells me which side of the street I’m on! It tells me which side of the freakin’ street!”
Nye, incidentally, will be a guest on the May 8 edition of “The Late Show With Stephen Colbert” (11:35 p.m., CBS).