The Star Spot explores the unknown

U of T students, alumni host popular astronomy podcast

The Star Spot explores the unknown

A year and a half ago, a group of space enthusiasts — ­including University of Toronto students and alumni — sat in the Second Cup on College Street, mulling over the plausibility of starting an astronomy and space exploration-themed podcast. Since then, the podcast, now called The Star Spot, has lifted off at light speed. With a fan base across 46 countries, The Star Spot is nearing 30,000 downloads, and the team behind it has already incorporated as a Canadian non-profit organization.



The topic of astronomy can be as overwhelming as it is fascinating. The Star Spot’s goal is to reach out to both dreamer-nerds and casual listeners by providing clarity on subjects that can quickly become very technical and abstract.

“We think people are often intimidated by the ideas of space and astronomy,” says Natalie Morcos, The Star Spot board member and director of marketing. “We aim for young adults. We try to keep our podcast academic but still accessible to anyone, not just people who are in astronomy and science. Confirmation that it is working is that we have a huge high school fan base.”

The Star Spot explores a wide spectrum of topics — such as the nature of time, the birth and afterlife of stars, and the future of humans as a space-faring species. A new episode is aired every other Sunday at 7 pm, and is hosted by Justin Trottier, U of T alumnus and founder of the Astronomy and Space Exploration Society, a U of T  organization. Usually an hour long, each episode opens with a news segment covering the latest events in space and astronomy. The news is followed by an interview with an expert to discuss a specific space-related topic in depth. Notable guests include Lawrence Krauss, author of the best-selling book A Universe from Nothing, and Carolyn Porco, a planetary scientist named as one of the top 25 most influential people in space by TIME in 2012. The podcast also makes an effort to have 50 per cent Canadian content. During the 50th anniversary of the launch of Canada’s first satellite, Alouette 1, The Star Spot did a video interview with Bob McDonald, host of Canada’s longest running science show, Quirks and Quarks. Recently, The Star Spot recorded an interview with Jill Tarter, director of the Center for Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Research. Tarter was also named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by TIME in 2004.

The Star Spot’s vision is to further promote interest in astronomy and space by interviewing more “big-ticket” guests and by collaborating with local groups.

The Star Spot is currently affiliated with the Canadian Space Society, the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, and the Astronomy and Space Exploration Society. It also works closely with the Canadian Space Commerce Association.

Recently, it has made plans to take on more kid-focused activities with the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in Toronto. The Star Spot team is also looking to accelerate the growth of its funding and sponsorship teams in order to travel to conferences outside of Toronto.

Despite its fast progress over the past year and a half, The Star Spot continues to be a very low-cost operation. Most interviews are recorded over Skype, and all people involved, from The Star Spot team members to the show’s guests, are volunteers. “We find that generally people are responsive, especially people who are passionate in what they’re doing,” says Morcos. “Everyone that’s into science is also really into science outreach and science literacy, which are values we espouse.”

To listen, volunteer, or donate, visit The Star Spot’s website at, or follow The Star Spot on Twitter (@TheStarSpot) or Facebook (The Star Spot).

Note: Natalie Morcos is employed by The Varsity as a web developer.

No reservations with Bill Burr

Bill Burr dishes on shitty beginners’ gigs, college kids, and Canucks

No reservations with Bill Burr

Bill Burr is one of the 42 acts included in this year’s JFL42 lineup. In my opinion, he is one of the best comedians working today, and someone I am completely unqualified to interview.  You may recognize Burr for his recurring role as Kuby on Breaking Bad, from his many late-night talk show appearances, or for his hilarious stand-up specials, Why Do I Do This, Let It Go, and You People Are All The Same. In 2006, he also gained notoriety for ripping into a crowd at an Opie and Anthony show in Philadelphia. Burr’s stand-up acts tackles uncomfortable topics by arguing unpopular opinions in ways that are both brilliant and hilarious.

As someone who has been doing stand-up for about six years now, Bill Burr is one of my biggest heroes; I literally jumped for joy and punched the ceiling, cutting my knuckle in the process, when I heard I would be interviewing him (worth it). The problem here was that, like many comedians, I have next to zero social skills. This, along with with the facts that I am very easily starstruck and that Bill is not one to suffer fools gladly, makes for a wonderfully awkward interview.



The Varsity: What do you think people should know going to a comedy show?

Bill Burr: I’m not saying that there shouldn’t be heckling…there shouldn’t be disruption, but it gets to that point where if you’re just gonna yell out non-sequiturs about a show ten years earlier… You know, you’re gonna derail anybody up there, you know? I think it really wasn’t a big deal, it’s easy for everyone to gravitate towards, so they talk about it, they talk more about that than all these crooked bankers. I’m a stand-up comedian, I have yet to watch the video ‘cause I’ve had that stuff happen to me. I’ve walked off stage. You know what? You don’t want a fucking show? Go to hell, fuck yourself, c’mon. I’m not here to get yelled at. You got a ticket so you think you can just take out your awful fucking work week on me? Go fuck yourself!


TV: What’s the worst heckle you think you’ve had?

BB: The worst ones were early when you didn’t know how to handle it. But there’s a lot of positive stuff in comedy. Dude, it’s not all people yelling and that type of shit.


TV: Which guys are you excited about in comedy right now? Is there anybody coming up who you want people to know about?

BB: Yeah, Chelsea Peretti, Fortune Feimster, Sean Patton, um, Joe DeRosa.  There’s a bunch of people. Pete Holmes!… Oh man, it’s just gonna kill me, man, there was somebody the other night — Ian Edwards, somebody who’s up and coming.He’s been doing it for a while and he’s an absolute genius. Um, there was somebody I saw the other night, goddamn it I can’t remember her name, she was great. There’s a lot of really, really good people out there.


TV: For sure. What sort of stuff have you been doing lately? Are you touring? You’ve got Breaking Bad happening too, are you like… Yeah, what sort of stuff have you been doing for your schedule lately?

BB: What, as far as touring? Well, my agent books me for stand-up for the year and if I get some acting we just move stuff.


TV: Your acting career is starting to take off. Do you see yourself starting to do more acting like that or do you envision yourself just staying a comic? That’s a stupid way of phrasing it, but you know what I mean?

BB: Yeah, no. I don’t know where it’s gonna lead me but I don’t ever see myself not doing stand-up and not being a comedian. I mean it is what I am, because you’re never unemployed, which is a hard thing to achieve.


TV: What’s the like, weirdest gig that you’ve had to go through?

BB: Um…, I did stand-up at a prom that was on a boat going around the island of Manhattan.


TV: Wow, that seems like such a shitty… just, why would you even book stand-up at a prom?

BB: Eh you know, it’s one of those deals where, just early in your stand-up career it’s just one humiliating situation, impossible situation after another. But, it weeds out the weak. Um, it’s weird. It builds character to a certain point, but if you stay in those kinds of rooms too long it hurts you.


TV: Like, um, how valuable do you think just shit shows are? Like, like, I do just a ton of garbage open mics versus I know people who will just do one good show a week instead. Do you think that there’s a value to those open mics, or does it hurt you to learn to play to the back of the room?

BB: At the beginning, you gotta take stage time whenever you can get it. I don’t know, everybody’s different, so what worked for me might not necessarily work for everybody else. I did it wherever I could do it and then I, um, basically, once I got good at it or good enough at it then I tried to. You’re always trying to get into the comedy clubs, the legit rooms, you were trying to get out of the Chinese restaurants, the bars, you know, all that crap, you were trying to get in above those. And once you get above those you were trying to get some college work. And then college work, they’d stick you in hallways and cafeterias.


TV: What do you think, like …

BB: I think they definitely help you build a tough skin, but if you stay in them too long, you know, you don’t want to be doing bars for like four years, five years. You need some quality, you know, even like when people fight in the war, you stay in the front too long you get some R&R, they take you back and you can chill out a bit before you have to go back. Look, four or five years in, I was definitely still doing shows at bars, but I was also getting spots at like The Comic Strip in New York and just B and C comedy clubs, which was way better than just going into a random place that stuck a microphone in the corner of the room.


TV: Yeah, you have to deal with people who just didn’t know that there was a show happening.

BB: Yeah, you know that deal, it’s like you come on stage and it’s like, you’re rude. Especially at colleges, kids would be trying to study or just hang out with their friends and then I’m going up there, trying to get them to pay attention, you start making fun of them and they’re just like: “What the fuck, dude? Got a grilled cheese sandwich and just trying to look over my… whatever the fuck I gotta do here.”


TV: Yeah, it seems like people just don’t understand how to understand comedy in a way where they know how to produce a show and what’s necessary for stuff like that.

BB: Right, well, you can’t get frustrated by it. There’s not one comedian I’ve ever met, no matter how big they were, ­that didn’t have hours and hours of stories of horrific gigs. Listen, I got another call coming in about five minutes so if you got one or two more questions you wanna ask?


TV: Uh, yeah for sure; I um, a friend of mine told me how in a podcast of yours, a while ago, you said that in Canada you feel like there’s a sort of pretentiousness and superiority over America? Is that a thing that you find here or …?

BB: When the hell did I ever say that?


TV: Shit. Um, I found a clip from a podcast where you said something along those lines. Um, is that something that you feel?

BB: Dude, I don’t even remember saying that.


TV: So, do you, um, like Canada?

BB: Shit storm start: “Hey, somebody said that they heard something from a clip from a podcast, where you said this,” and I’m like, “What? I don’t remember that.” “Oh, you don’t? Well, what do you think about that comment that you can’t remember from that thing that that guy heard from a clip from a podcast?” I don’t know what the fuck that is, y’know. It depends on what preceded it.  I mean it could have been somebody from Canada calling in trashing America, so I was just giving them shit back. Or it could have been somebody completely different — somebody who sounded like me that wasn’t me. But no, I’m a huge hockey fan; I’m touring Canada in March so, no. If I thought that they were a bunch of pretentious assholes, I wouldn’t go up there. Why would I do that?


TV: I don’t know.

BB: Yeah, so there you go, there’s your answer. I don’t feel it’s like that.


TV: I’m sorry.

BB: Oh! I know what it was, I know what it was. I was probably talking about the Montreal Canadiens’ fans, and then somehow, through the telephone game, it became all of Canada. But I was just talking the Canadiens’ fans.


TV: Well, I’m glad that’s sorted out, and I’m sorry.


Bill Burr will be performing two shows on September 21 at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre. This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

The Varsity Editorial Board sits down with UTSU presidential candidates

From student engagement to campus life, candidates discuss their campaign platforms

The Varsity Editorial Board sits down with UTSU presidential candidates

The three UTSU presidential candidates — Brent Schmidt (StudentsFirst), Shaun Shepherd (Unity), and Rohail Tanoli (Independent) — came by The Varsity’s office to answer questions from The Varsity’s Editorial Board. Here’s what they had to say. (more…)