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ESF Marine Biologist Jumps into Shark-Infested Comedy Seas


6/2/2020

By Karen B. Moore

Editor's Note: In solidarity with the Black Lives Matter protests, the producers of Blood in the Water comedy show have postponed the event until July.

"It's like Shark Week, but without all the testosterone," said Dr. Joshua Drew in describing Blood in the Water: Queens Drag Sharks to Chum, a live-streamed marine-science-meets-drag comedy show, where Drew provides the shark science.

The show is the brainchild of Kylie Holloway, a producer at Caveat, a club located on New York City's Lower Eastside. She describes Shark Week as the "monster trucks of science communications" and wanted to do a show with drag queens at the club.

"It's a brilliant idea," said Drew. "What is the antithesis of this hyper-masculine culture? It's drag queens!"

This is the third time Drew, assistant professor of vertebrate conservation in ESF's Department of Environmental and Forest Biology, has jumped into the shark-infested comedy waters of Caveat's annual show.

Drew got involved when Holloway contacted him while he was a lecturer at Columbia University, knowing he had done shark research. Drew was partnered with drag queen Kiko Soiree who provides the "fabulous" to Drew's scholarly information.

Said Soiree, "After our first year, Josh and I had a natural rapport, so now, like highly pelagic sharks making an annual migration, we come together again to offer life to this bananas tradition."

Drew and Soiree develop the theme for their portion of the show. For past shows, they highlighted "weird" sharks you wouldn't see on the Discovery Channel and sharks in diverse cultures around the world. This year, Drew said, the shark talk will be topical as they look at what sharks would do if they too were quarantined.

"We have an idea about sharks stuck home in quarantine and looking to slide into people's DMs (direct messages)," said Drew. "So I'm going to give out a fact about sharks and she's going to take and make it like a Tinder profile for the sharks."

"There is this principle in comedy that the more specific you are, the more compelling your joke will be," said Soiree. "To me, there was something so quirky and specific about drag queens pairing up with not just scientists, but marine biologists specifically interested in the academic study of sharks, all to make an informative and hilarious presentation to a live-ticket-paying audience."

Blood in the Water is not your child's science show. The comedy is for a "more mature audience" as the actual club/bar caters to a 21-and-over crowd. However, being online opens up the audience to older teens.

"I would love to get those students in high school who are gender nonconforming, and who like sharks but are put off by the hyper-machismo aspect of it," Drew said. "I would love for those folks to see there's a wide variety of scientists studying marine biology and that the queens are participating in it, and that it is a place that wouldn't necessarily be exclusionary to them as you would see just by watching Discovery Channel."

"This is a way to make the world of marine biology and especially shark research more inclusive, which is what we strive to do here at ESF," said Drew.

Drew isn't the only marine biologist in the comedy sea. He will be joined by fellow marine biologists Dr. Sarah McAnulty and Dr. Sabah Ul-Hasan as they give their takes on clam snails, squids and cephalopods.

"I'm excited that we've got this opportunity to increase the representation and make marine biology and biology a more inclusive and welcoming place," said Drew. "That you can look however you want and we've got a seat at the table for you,"

Soiree has her own expectations for the show. "I hope people laugh, say 'oh, I didn't know that,' and compliment my beauty in the chat bar."

With coronavirus-related restrictions on gatherings, this year's show will be on Caveat's YouTube channel in July.