Standup comic Ian Harris doesn’t have any particular agenda other than to make people laugh—it just so happens that the things he finds laugh-worthy are logical fallacies, unfounded beliefs and anti-scientific thinking. By default, his act is largely an exercise in myth-busting and sacred cow tipping.
Also a mixed martial arts fighter, Ian takes a combative approach to the art of comedy, pulling no punches as he expresses his skeptical views on everything from God to alternative medicine. While liberal Santa Cruzans aren’t likely to take issue with his denouncement of science denial where evolution or climate change are concerned, some will have their views challenged when it comes to GMOs, vaccination and so-called “politically correct” language.
On Sunday, Oct. 16, Ian Harris returns from Los Angeles to his hometown of Santa Cruz to perform his latest show, ExtraOrdinary, at the Rio Theatre. The event will be recorded live for Netflix, Starz or Amazon, marking the first time in history that an hour-long comedy special recorded in Santa Cruz has aired on television. 100 percent of the show’s profits will go to Camp Quest, a summer camp that encourages science-based critical thinking.
Local Santa Cruz: What part did your parents play in your becoming a skeptic?
Ian Harris: I grew up with a mom who was a self-proclaimed psychic. She still lives in Santa Cruz. I think she calls herself an intuitive now; I don’t think she uses the word psychic. I never really believed it, but I grew up with that being the norm. Like people who grow up with religion being the norm, and they eventually step away from it, I grew up with the default position being: Ghosts, psychics and paranormal stuff were standard.
About how old were you when you started to question that?
I think on some level I always questioned it. My mom would be like, “Oh, yeah, the ghost of your great uncle would come and sit on the end of your bed,” or whatever. I just assumed that was normal, but it didn’t make sense to me, because I was always an atheist. My dad was an atheist, and we never went to church a day in my life—nothing. So I used to always think, “Well, this doesn’t make sense. If I don’t believe in a soul, and I don’t believe in an afterlife, how can ghosts possibly exist? They must be some sort of weird energy thing that’s left over. But then why are they in human form, and why do they have clothes on?” I was trying to explain it, and after so many explanations went away, I was like, “Well, I guess they just don’t exist.”
I grew up with two very different parents. My dad was very rational and very cynical on some level. My grandfather was an actual con man, grifter type guy who thought everybody had an angle. That’s one of the reasons my grandfather and my dad were both atheists: My grandfather had this idea that it’s all a magic show; it’s all smoke and mirrors, and these guys are the greatest con men, trying to get your money. And that’s how he thought about religion: “Nah, it’s a big scam.” And on the other hand, my mom was New Age-y and chakras and reading your astrology charts and all that kind of stuff. So I kind of got these two perspectives, where I got to see the psychic stuff happen in daily life, and I had this rational, cynical side, to where I was kind of able to navigate my way through a lot of that stuff.
I’m still very liberal, though. I’m definitely a product of my parents and my upbringing there. Maybe that’s just logic: I like to think that if you’re logical and educated and have empathy, you’re going to be fairly liberal. But definitely, there are some people who would be like, “Oh, you grew up in Santa Cruz. Of course you’re a liberal commie bastard!”
But there’s a lot of “woo” in what we would call the liberal stuff, like the anti-GMO crowd, the “everything has to be organic” crowd and the anti-vaccine crowd. When we think of anti-science, we think of the right-wing nuts who think that the world is 6,000 years old, that there’s no evolution and that there’s no climate change. But anti-science exists on both sides of the political spectrum.
What do you think of the things the Satanic Temple has been up to recently, like fighting for the right to put up Satanic statues or saying Satanic prayers at city council meetings?
I’ve been talking about Satanism as an idea for as long as I can remember. I think it’s the most brilliant, awesome thing ever. I used to tell my wife 20-plus years ago that the best way to combat these religious laws forcing God on the money or forcing me to invoke God in public schools is not to fight it with, “Hey, the constitution says…”; “Hey, this is illegal”; “Hey, I’m an atheist; I don’t believe it,” because they don’t care about that! Their idea is just to be like, “Well, shut up. Most of us are Christian, so suck it, because majority rules.”
So, the way to combat them is: “Great! So we can [bring religion into school]? Well, today we’re going to say the Pledge of Allegiance to Satan,” and then watch how quickly they refer to the First Amendment: “Oh, wait! Separation of church and state!” “Oh, you’re going to put the Ten Commandments [on display]? Cool! We’re going to put up a giant devil with horns sacrificing a virgin on the courthouse lawn.” “Whoa, whoa, whoa. What about separation of church and state?” “Oh, you’re right. Let’s remove those Ten Commandments.” I think that’s brilliant.
And I think they should do the same thing with Islam, even though I’m very much opposed to all religions, including Islam. It’s all or nothing, man! If you’re going to put up stuff on the White House lawn or the public school or the courthouse walls, I’d better see Jesus up there; I’d better see Mohammed up there; I’d better see Satan up there; I’d better see Krishna up there. It’s all, or there’s none of it!