Off the Top: Mixing Science and Entertainment
What happens in your brain when you’re freestyling, improvising, making things up “off the top?”
Where: Caspary Auditorium, Rockefeller University
When: July 23, 2014
“Off the Top” was a kind of variety show, full of jokes, music, theatre, and yes – Science! It was great to see science and entertainment blended so seamlessly that the science became a part of the entertainment and vice versa.
The show focused on what happens in the brain during improvisation, for example, when a rapper freestyles, a jazz musician performs an improvised piece, or a comedian or actor goes off script. Berlin, a neuroscientist at Mount Sinai provided the scientific perspective, not shying away from showing primary data. Her tag-team partner and husband, Baba Brinkman, delighted the crowd not only with his raps, but also his ability to juggle, perform math equations, and type on a computer screen while performing a pre-memorized rap. When tasked with these tests while freestyling, however, Brinkman passed all but one – the typing test. Berlin used these tests to illustrate how scientists tease apart the areas of the brain involved in improv.
Other performers interspersed throughout the evening included Myq Kaplan, comedian; Graham Wiggens, jazz musician; and Dan Hodapp and Natasha Rothwell of the Upright Citizens Brigade.
For more on how Berlin and Brinkman came up with “Off the Top”, check out my
interview with Dr Berlin.
For further reading on the science of improvisation: