One of Jon the Robot’s jokes goes a little something like this:
“Don’t you hate it when you are trying to solve the inverse kinematics equation and you get ‘Error 452 – No Solution Found.’ Don’t you hate it?”
The robot then listens to the crowd’s response with its onboard microphones evaluating the number and intensity of sounds it gets in response to determine whether the crowd likes the joke or not.
If the robot finds the crowd responding positively, it follows it up with: “I’m glad you also hate that.”
But if the robot determines the crowd didn’t like the joke, its follow-up is a little different:
“Not a lot of robots in the crowd tonight. That joke kills at Best Buy.”
Jon the Robot is just one of the performers at “Singu-hilarity: A Robot Comedy Variety Show,” coming to the Majestic Theater Friday night.
Naomi Fitter, assistant professor of robotics at Oregon State University and producer for the show, said it includes robot and human stand-up comedy performers and robot dancers who will perform with human ballet dancers. The Irrelevant Podcast comedy team will be part of the show as well.
Fitter, who programmed Jon the Robot and wrote the jokes he tells, said she has done stand-up in the past and got interested in the idea of having a robot do standup comedy while she was taking classes at the Upright Citizens Brigade in Los Angeles in 2017 and 2018.
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“I got interested in writing for the character of a robot, what they would say,” she said.
She also is doing research to try to understand if people think a robot stand-up comedian is funnier if it is able to respond to the crowd. She’s done tests with the robot programmed to be very responsive to the crowd and with it programmed so that it is not responsive at all.
At OSU, Fitter said, she met Heather Knight, a computer science professor who has been programming robots to do stand-up comedy even longer than she has. Knight will also perform at the event.
Despite the work going on at OSU to program robotic stand-up comedians, Fitter noted that Friday's performance is not typical entertainment fare.
“It’s unusual to see robots performing stand-up comedy,” she said.
Fitter said the show came together as a way to do outreach for science.
“Entertainment robotics for me is a good opportunity to do science communication,” she said.
Fitter said the show is followed by an opportunity for the public to talk to performers about how their acts came to be. She added that she hopes people attending the event get inspired to get involved in the maker movement.
“I think (the show) is sort of a one-of-a-kind opportunity,” she said.