From crushing comedy stages to flying through the air as a circus performer to giving lectures about political science, Andrea Jones-Rooy is the definition of a "triple threat." We had a chance to catch up with the multi-talented performer and find out more about her work, her inspiration and plans for the future.
You’re a Ph.D. political scientist, a comedian, and a circus performer! How did this all come to be?
I think pretty much by accident, though I wish I had a more profound story where I had a great vision at some point and then relentlessly fought for this reality. I think this happened because I have always been interested in lots of different things and haven’t been able to pick one, despite my best efforts.
Over the years I’ve definitely tried different versions of committing just to one of these things and shutting out the others, but they always comes creeping back or I realize I’m miserable without them. For example, I’ve gone through periods where I tried to be just a very serious professor and while I enjoy it in the moment – getting lost in books and that sort of glorious thing – it eventually makes me really isolated and, like, angry. Then I’ll either get booked to do a circus show or go seek one out and remember that I like that side of myself, and get reminded that I don’t have to take everything so seriously. I once wrote a note to myself that said, Andrea, don’t forget you like who you are better when you do circus. It’s not always easy to remember when I’m around lots of other “serious” professors.
Three things is also a lot – honestly, I wish I could commit to just two for a start! But all three really satisfy my brain, if that makes sense. I love thinking scientifically about things and learning from other people’s research – it’s weirdly calming in the mess of the world to read a journal article where someone tries to turn one piece of the madness into order. I also love circus because it’s a reminder to not take everything so seriously, and it feels really good to be in one’s body and move and take (measured and careful) risks like getting up on a trapeze or waving fire around. It’s a great antidote to sitting really still and thinking really hard. It’s also humbling because I’m nowhere near the levels of the real pros (in either field).
Finally, comedy is an intellectual catharsis – in science, you have to be so careful about what you say, and you can’t have opinions. In comedy, I get to say whatever I want and be angry or excited or annoyed. I think if I just expressed myself through circus I would eventually just stop the show, blow out my fire, and shout at the audience about what’s on my mind, haha.
Have you faced any challenges trying to blend your three worlds?
I keep going back and forth on whether to blend the three or keep them separate. They all serve their own purpose for me (super selfish, yes), and the escape from one world to another helps keep me sane. It’s nice to leave a classroom where I’ve been lecturing and dash over to a comedy club and shout on stage with what I REALLY think, haha. And I feel like a superhero changing from my normal person clothes into a circus costume. So it’s a real thrill to flip between the worlds and have them not be blended.
That said, I do have fun blending them, too. Originally my goal was to blend all three all the time, but like I said, there’s value to me in keeping them separate. But I do also enjoy blending. I think I’ve been more successful at taking on two at a time – like, my comedy skills can help me give a scientific talk that’s hopefully a little more engaging, or I can rant about academia in standup. For circus, I really like doing acts that are funny rather than super serious. I recently started combining all three in a show in NYC called Political Circus, where I would give a lecture that was hopefully funny and then summarize the lecture with a circus act related to the theme. I would say the results were … mixed ☺. Haha.
How does your work as a political scientist impact your comedy?
I don’t talk about politics itself much in my shows. I used to have a joke about gun control but it has all gotten so dark that I don’t feel right making jokes about it. (The gist of it is that China’s government is super oppressive but one benefit is they don’t allow anyone to have guns, so people figure out how to kill each other more creatively, which makes reading the news more fun. Yay, murder jokes.) I have a few asides that are fairly feminist, and only non-men tend to laugh.
Political science, though – I definitely talk about the field a lot. It’s a field most people don’t actually understand, so I talk about what political science means (famously hilarious), and I also really like talking about academia and teaching … mainly just for venting purposes. But it does come up a lot. I also think many people have been college students and find it fun to hear a professor talk about what we think of the students (only wonderful things, of course ☺).
I wish I could say something more profound like … being a scientist helps me approach comedy systematically or something like that, but I think I’m attracted to both science and comedy because they are made up of people looking at the mess of the world and saying “that thing – let’s focus on that thing and go nuts with it.” Watching comedy and scientific talks are reassuring to me in that way, whether it’s Jerry Seinfeld talking about awnings in New York or Josh Tucker (professor at NYU) talking about social media’s effect on democracy.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
Yikes, I don’t know. I have always admired people who pick one thing that they are obsessed with and do it forever. Of course, ironically, while worshipping those people, I’ve never been able to become one (see above about how I’ve failed when I tried). One of the biggest challenges for me is that because I just love enthusiastic people, I tend to glom on to whatever they’re excited about. When I’m around comics a whole bunch I’m always just like YES COMEDY IS THE ONE AND ONLY GREAT THING, and then I’ll go to a circus show and leaving thinking ONLY CIRCUS FROM NOW ON! I might be insane.
As a child, did you ever think you’d be immersed in such different careers? What did you want to be when you grew up?
Definitely not! I was obsessed with that idea of finding my ONE AMAZING THING and going all in on it. So obsessed, in fact, you might argue I never actually thought about what I wanted to do because I was so busy thinking about how to find the thing I wanted to do, if that makes sense. Once when I was very little I was in the car with my parents and a song came on the radio and I asked if it was the same singer as some other song we’d heard some other time before. My mother was like, it is! Good ear! And for the rest of the day I was like, I guess I’m going to be in MUSIC! N.b., I have zero music talent. And this was when I was like 8.
Not to get all Steve Jobs on everyone, but I do think that looking back these three things do represent the stuff I was actually interested in when I was growing up. I loved performing, I loved moving, I was a good writer (I mean, we’re talking middle school essays but they were some of my best work), and I was irritated that I didn’t understand the world. These three things I do now – science, comedy, circus – in addition to offering some nice alliteration – all represent manifestations of me eventually giving in to what, underneath it all, I was actually gravitating towards all along when I stopped thinking so hard about it.
Also, obviously, I spent at least a year thinking I’d be a marine biologist, but I never got comfortable with the idea of a shark tank. Also, it was only because my friend was into the idea.
If you could add one more job to the collection, what would it be?
Like any good performer – movie star, obviously! That sounds ridiculous, but I would obviously quit everything to do that. Ok, fine, I will accept my own Netflix show as a consolation prize.
Are there any cool projects you’re currently working on?
I am perpetually casting about, but right now I’m doing a livestreaming show called Ask a Political Scientist where I’m bringing my political science & comedy worlds together to discuss serious research about serious problems in a fun way. I haven’t figured out how to work circus into that yet. I’m also filming an online course called Data Science for Everyone for NYU which, while not political science, comedy, or circus, is a fun exercise in trying to get people excited about thinking like a scientist, which I wish more people were!
God, those things sound boring. Normally I am also performing IRL but, you know...
Follow Andrea and check out her show "Political Circus" at the Caveat!
Political Circus: https://www.caveat.nyc/series/political-circus
Interview By: Caitlin Arcand
Images: Andrea Jones-Rooy