Neil deGrasse Tyson Reveals the One Showbiz Gig He’s Terrible at and 6 Other Emmy Nominee Questions

“StarTalk” host says science literacy “is going to be very important in the future that you choose”

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Neil deGrasse Tyson is nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards, but the astrophysicist is more concerned about producing high-quality science content.

“The awards are nice but I don’t see them as the measure,” Tyson told TheWrap. “They’re a measure, and sometimes not even the best measure.”

Tyson said he instead concerns himself with creating content that will increase science literacy in our culture. “We live in the twenty-first century and your fluency in science–science literacy in general–is going to be very important in the future that you choose, particularly if you live in an elected democracy,” he said.

Read below for TheWrap’s full interview.

TheWrap: Who is the stiffest competition in both categories?
Neil deGrasse Tyson
: Well “StarTalk” was birthed on the radio. It jumped species to television, and we were very happy to do that with National Geographic, but we weren’t thinking Emmy…So when the Emmy announcement came, it was like “Wow, someone is noticing us on television.” And when I look at who else is in the category…”Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” I believe is also up in this category. And I’ve seen his shows. They’re really good shows! It’s not just food, it’s culture…So I think it’s a welcome reminder of a time when people shared their most treasured source of sustenance, and that’s food.

In terms of narration, people narrate stuff all the time. I don’t even know how you pick winners there. I have no idea. [Laughs] I just want to make sure we do the best we can whether it gets awarded or not.

What do you think were the biggest snubs this year, either for your show or in general?
I have an unorthodox view of awards. For example, does anyone remember who got the Academy Award for Best Actor in 1939? No one remembers that because it didn’t go to anybody from “Gone with the Wind.” So this concept of winning an award to me, I think it’s great for your career and all this, but in terms of it being the actual final measure of whether or not somebody’s done quality work, I try to distance myself from that as the measure. So I just ask myself “Am I enjoying this? Am I learning?”

Have you been actively campaigning for the Emmy then?
I think if we get it, it would be an affirmation from the community that we’re doing something right…but if we didn’t get it I’m not going to think that we’re not doing something right. That’s my point. The awards are nice but I don’t see them as the measure. They’re measure, and sometimes not even the best measure.

Did you have any naysayers as you were growing up?
I think I tweeted this once, but every successful person has a list of people who said they wouldn’t succeed. I think there’s almost no exception to that fact…For me, I was athletic as a kid, and people kept trying to push me to athletics. And I enjoyed athletics, but it definitely was not my first love. My first love was physics. How often does an adult say, “You should do physics?” They say “You should be a linebacker” or “You should be running back.” It’s easier to say what else you should be that’s more comfortable for the person making the suggestion. But once I sort of got up and in there people sort of let go.

What would your Emmy victory song be?
[Laughs] I hadn’t thought about that, but now that you put me on the spot, maybe Van Morrison’s “Moon Dance.” It’s not overplayed, but people know it when they hear it…So I think it hits all the right notes, literally and figuratively.

How important are shows like “StarTalk” in terms of making science more accessible to the average person?
The importance of it is I think in the end what’s driving me…We live in the twenty-first century and your fluency in science–science literacy in general–is going to be very important in the future that you choose, particularly if you live in an elected democracy. So without that science literacy, you have disenfranchised yourself from some of the most important decisions you’re going to have to make for the future of civilization…So in that sense I see it as a public service. It’s another sort of higher calling that brings all of our efforts to bear.

Do you have interest in pursuing acting? Will you be up for an acting Emmy next year?
[Laughs] If there’s one thing I can’t do, and know I can’t do, it’s act. I guest starred on “The Big Bang Theory,” as have many other scientists, and was honored to be asked. But I told them, “Do not have me fall in love, or express anger, frustration, disgust.” Because that requires active emotion and I don’t have it…But I have been asked on many occasions and have done on several occasions a cameo voiceover. And in each case, the reason why they asked me is they want to throw a little bit of science in the cartoon. They want to throw a little authenticity and I fully applaud any moment when a creative person says, “We want to throw a little science in this storytelling.”