Meet Ralph Crewe of “Isn’t That Something.”
Ralph is a science educator-turned-YouTuber who’s been compared to a Pittsburgh Bill Nye, and who’s bringing his flair for informal learning to the masses.
His newest video, “An Abridged History of Bridges,” is a fun and often etymological look at the word and the feat of engineering — yes, Pittsburgh’s spans make an appearance — in more forms than we knew existed. Find the full version here.
We asked Ralph about his path to becoming an intelligence influencer, his *yinzer accent*, his deep dives into some very offbeat subjects, and why he makes content with nerds like us in mind.
Here are his responses, edited for clarity and length.
The Incline: How’d you get started with this?
Ralph: I was raised in a super musical family. My dad was in the Pittsburgh Symphony for a long time and I thought I was gonna be a musician when I was a kid.
I actually went to music school at Duquesne for a while but eventually got out of music. I went and did real estate for a while, but that wasn’t for me either.
So I went back and went to school for science, and when I was doing that I needed a part-time job, so I started at the Carnegie Science Center. This would have been around 2009.
The Incline: Is that where this seed was planted?
Ralph: When I finally got my degree in biology from Pitt a couple years later, I stayed at the science center and actually ended up working there for a total of 10 years, helping to run the planetarium and observatory and having an absolute blast doing informal science education — I fell in love with it. And then COVID happened.
I ended up parting ways with the science center, but I’ve always really enjoyed the sort of internet curiosity world, and once I found myself with a little spare time, I got a camera and I just started writing scripts and trying to condense how much nerd I would put in like an hour of regular content into 10 minutes of extra-strength internet nerd.
The Incline: How do you pick these subjects?
Ralph: Sometimes I’ll just be walking my dog and one will pop into my head or a friend might suggest one.
I had thought about maybe doing an abridged history of baking soda for some reason and my friend said ‘Why don’t you do an abridged history of bridges instead?’
I’m in Pittsburgh and thought it would be a perfect fit.
But I keep a running list and I’m always open to suggestions. (Editor’s Note: Keep reading for how to submit yours.)
The Incline: Do you produce these videos on your own?
Ralph: At the moment, yeah. Well, I shouldn’t say it’s all me. The original music is done by Kyle Simpson. He’s a trumpet player and composer and arranger. He’s also a professor at WVU, a dear friend, and a brilliant, brilliant guy. He actually did the music for the science center’s podcast when I was still there. And he agreed to do the music for the Isn’t That Something channel, which is great. Otherwise I do the filming, the light and sound, the editing, and collect all the source material.
It’s a shocking amount of work. It’s easy to spend 30, 40 or more hours on a 10- to 15-minute video.
The Incline: Do you have a specific audience, like Pittsburghers or yinzers, in mind?
Ralph: I definitely have a soft spot for yinzers. That’s why I did the Christmas episode in a yinzer accent. That was really hard to shoot because I kept laughing.
I mean no disrespect. I love the yinzer accent. Many of my favorite people are yinzers.
But no, I make these for the world, and I’ve reached I think it’s like 90 countries or something at this point. Basically I’m going for nerds anywhere in the world. But I love mentioning my hometown when I get a chance.
The Incline: Some (*mostly me) have compared you to a Pittsburgh Bill Nye. Is that a fair comparison?
Ralph: I’d be honored to be mentioned in the same breath as Bill Nye. I grew up in the ’90s. I’m in my mid-30s now. Bill Nye shaped me quite a bit.
I’m definitely more of a broad audience focus. I’m not a kids show, although I am kid-friendly. It’s family friendly, but not family oriented.
I’ve also seen some comments that said I was reminiscent of Vsauce, which I think is pretty apt. Although Vsauce is huge and amazing. Again, I would be honored to be mentioned in the same breath with these folks.
The Incline: Is there a story behind the name?
Ralph: The introduction to the channel talks about my great grandmother who would always say ‘isn’t that something.’ Whatever it was you told her about — a historical event or even just playing the piano for her — she would say ‘isn’t that something.’
The Incline: What are you covering next?
The Incline: I have a few ideas in the works. I don’t want to reveal them just yet. But I also honestly would love to see if any of the readers of The Incline have ideas.
Thanks, Ralph. Send your suggestions to him here.
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