When we arranged to bring Comedy Hack Day to the MIT Media Lab, we hoped it would produce more hardware than we had seen in the past. And sure enough, we soon wound up facing the question: Does the stage have enough room for a toilet?
Team Pizzicato Privy, comprised of three MIT students (Bryan Kapicka, Dan McDuff, and Robert R. Morris), set out on the noble mission of transforming the typical bathroom experience into a symphony of strings and horns. Their creation, a lit up, tricked-out cyber throne, may well give rise to a future where every 3 a.m. burrito is the gastrointestinal equivalent of Mozart first placing pen to paper his latest masterpiece.
I followed up with Rob and Bryan to learn a little more about the Pizzicato Privy:
BJ: So let’s get this out of the way up front, what inspired you to mess with a toilet?
RRM: It’s always fun to play in a space where there’s room for innovation. The user experience of public restrooms could definitely be improved, especially when it comes to acoustics. Tackling that very obvious problem seemed like a no-brainer to us. We also tend to work on pretty serious stuff at MIT, so building a musical toilet was pretty cathartic. It gave us a much needed excuse to work on something totally ridiculous and juvenile.
BJ: Take me through the evolution of this product. Where did you start, and how did it grow out into the finished product you demoed?
RRM: We spent a lot of time tinkering with the audio design. Converting a toilet into a playable musical instrument was a difficult challenge. Once we had the audio working, everything came together pretty quickly.
BJ: Rob & Dan, I know you two had been tinkering with this idea before the weekend, but did the three of you wind up coming together and what did you each contribute?
RRM: We met Bryan at the hackathon and quickly discovered we had overlapping interests (both comedic and otherwise). Bryan created the visuals and produced the product pitch. He’s a Sloan school guy too, so he had some great insights into how this invention could be productized.
BJ: So you get it all working and it’s showtime. How did you feel immediately before and immediately after your demo?
RRM: We admit we were a bit nervous beforehand. We’re not comedians by trade and none of us had ever performed Beethoven in front of a live audience, while seated on a toilet. Once we left the stage, we felt exhilarated and relieved. By some miracle, everything worked and the audio sounded great through the PA.
BJ: And now that you’re down from the Comedy Hack Day high, what are your overarching thoughts on the event?
RRM: Comedy Hack Day was amazing! We had a blast. Also, though we’re a bit biased, we genuinely think the Media Lab is the perfect place for events like these. The lab thrives on disruptive ideas and comedians are the most disruptive people we know. There’s no better place to host Comedy Hack Day!
BK: I honestly had sworn off hackathons after a few disappointing experiences (there are a bunch on and around campus). The focus on comedy caught my attention and last years demo videos convinced me to make an exception. The emphasis on comedic performances made the difference in contrast to the typical focus on viable products. It was truly one of the more memorable weekends of my time at MIT.