Jim Underdown at CFI Los Angeles, California
|Education||B.A. in English|
|Alma mater||DePauw University|
|Occupation||Executive Director of CFI Los Angeles, Founder of IIG|
James "Jim" Underdown has been the executive director of The Center for Inquiry (CFI) Los Angeles since 1999. The Center for Inquiry is a non-profit educational organization with headquarters in Amherst, New York, whose primary mission is to foster a secular society based on science, reason, freedom of inquiry, and humanist values. CFI Los Angeles is the largest branch in the organization outside Amherst.
Underdown founded the Independent Investigations Group (IIG), a volunteer-based organization, in January 2000 at the Center for Inquiry-West (now Center for Inquiry-Los Angeles) in Hollywood, California. The IIG investigates fringe science, paranormal and extraordinary claims from a rational, scientific viewpoint, and disseminates factual information about such inquiries to the public. There are Independent Investigation Groups in Los Angeles, Washington D.C., Atlanta, Denver, and Alberta, Canada. Altogether, the Independent Investigations Groups are the largest paranormal investigations team in the world.
The IIG offers $250,000:43:15 to anyone who can prove paranormal or supernatural ability under test conditions, and has in the past administered preliminary demonstrations for the James Randi Educational Foundation (JREF) $1,000,000 Paranormal Challenge.
Underdown is a 1982 graduate of DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana, where he received his B.A. in English with an emphasis in composition. He was also the starting defensive end for the DePauw Tiger football team which recorded a 9–1 record in 1981. Between 1982 and 1999, he worked as a school teacher, truck driver, painter, limo driver, hotel clerk, furniture mover, football coach, carpenter, and bouncer. In the late 1970s, Underdown tried to win a $500 prize by wrestling a bear .
After moving to Los Angeles in 1992, Underdown taught comedy traffic school for the Improv Traffic School and worked as a carpenter until he joined the Center for Inquiry in May 1999. During his time in Los Angeles, He wrote and directed 2 short films: A Day in the Life of Frank Sinatra, a docushort about a homeless man with a famous name, and Dear Father, a black comedy about a priest who gets a letter from a man he molested 20 years before. He also wrote and directed a one-act play called Party of 13, a secular retelling of the Last Supper. Party of 13 has run 3 times in Los Angeles. He is also the host and creator of "The Peep Show", a humorous roundtable discussion that ran for 2 dozen episodes on public access TV in the mid-1990s.
James is lead singer of "The Heathens", a rock and roll band dedicated to freethought and skeptical themes. Band members include lead guitarist and musical director Craig Else, keyboardist Dino Herrmann, bassist Joel Pelletier, and drummer John E. Skaare. The Heathens have played at The Steve Allen Theater in Hollywood and at Patriot Hall in downtown Los Angeles. On March 28, 2013, Craig Else and James Underdown of The Heathens released their first original single, Infallible, on iTunes and other music outlets. Infallible is about the pope, Francis, and his discovery that the greatest thing about the job is infallibility.
In 1988 James declared himself Poet Laureate of Calumet City, Illinois, and began touring Midwest comedy clubs as Jim U-Boat, a moniker from high school. In response to Underdown's claim to being Calumet City's poet laureate, its mayor Robert Stefaniak stated that Underdown was "a lousy poet" who was "not recognized by the community". Interviewed by WKQX radio station in front of City Hall, Underdown states although he has never lived or worked in Calumet City, it "reflects the blue-collar nature of my poems".
Notable shows Underdown performed in during the late 1980s/early 1990s include the Serious Art Comedy Show at the Roxy (Chicago), "The Best of Blue Collar Art" at the Elbo Room (Chicago), and "Mr. Saigon" also at the Elbo Room which featured Matt Walsh and Matt Besser of the Upright Citizen's Brigade. In the play written by Terry Curtis Fox, Underdown played a uniformed police officer in Cops. NoHo LA writes "one wishes his role was a bit longer".
Underdown created the Steve Allen Theater in 2002 and hired Amit Itelman to be its founding artistic director soon after. According to the NY Times, "...the Steve Allen Theater is not just any theater...it is known for its willingness to embrace controversy. (In June -- 6/6/06 to be exact -- it held a Satanic High Mass for leather and tuxedo-clad devil-worshippers.)"
In the media
Underdown is one of the co-hosts of the Center for Inquiry's flagship podcast, Point of Inquiry. He and co-host Kavin Senapathy were tapped in October 2018 to be the new interviewers on the longtime show. Underdown is also the co-host, along with Tony Ortega and Jerry Minor, of The Cult Awareness Podcast that discusses Scientology, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other subjects.
Underdown billed on the Dr. Phil show as a professional skeptic wrote about his experience as the lone skeptic, "Maybe the show is afraid of challenging the views of so many of their viewers. But it would have nice to have a fair chance to do so". First Underdown read for a small audience as a psychic, then a professional psychic read the same group. This was the first time he had tried to do a group cold-reading and left 3 of the 10 participants in tears. When later it was revealed to the participants that James was a fake psychic, they stated that the professional psychic had given a much better reading. Underdown's response was "of course she is, she is much better practiced". Another psychic claimed that James was actually a real psychic and bitter, he responded, he is not bitter but you make money doing the same thing he can do for free.
Underdown has appeared in various media, including with Mentalist Mark Edward who were featured on Discovery Channel's episode of Weird or What? "Mind Control War". He has made two appearances on Penn & Teller's Showtime series Bullshit!, Yoga and Tantric Sex where he scams the Tarot Card readers by changing his appearance and behavior. And on the "Talking to the Dead" episode of Season One.
On the Oprah Winfrey Network Miracle Detective show Underdown was called in to investigate an angelic apparition that people claim cured a 14-year-old severely disabled child at Presbyterian Hemby Children's Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina. The "angel" was shown to be sunlight from a hidden window, and the little girl is still severely handicapped.
Lecturing at skeptical events, Underdown recently spoke on the topic "Are there similarities between the paranormal claims people make today and the miracles found in the Bible?" Underdown takes a look at 5 miracles in the Bible and relates them to real-life paranormal investigations at ReasonFest May 2011. Using only invisible thread, a very long pole and a Mr. Coffee pot lid Jim Underdown shows the audience at JREF, The Amaz!ing Meeting: TAM9 From Outer Space how to fake their own UFO photographs.
Underdown joined the cast of "Battle of the Psychics" in Kiev, Ukraine in 2012, for the taping of the show's 10th season. He appeared on the show as one of the jury members who analyze the performance of the alleged psychics who are competing for prize money. The show's website reads: "For the first time in history, Battle" in the jury - an outspoken skeptic, internationally known researcher of paranormal phenomena, American James Underdown. Joining Underdown as judges on the show are host Paul Kostitsyn, well-known Russian actress Alika Smekhova, and world famous spoonbender and illusionist, Uri Geller. When asked why he would participate in a show that assumes psychic ability is real, Underdown responded, This is an opportunity to square off with the world's most famous (alleged) psychic in one of the world's biggest hotbeds of psychic belief. Why not try to bring some skepticism where it is so sorely needed?
Appearing in the short Secularism - A Short Film Underdown along with others reenacts Robert G. Ingersoll's 1887 essay Secularism. Underdown interviewed by Chris Brown about his involvement with the IIG.
Speaking to the Santa Monica College's newly formed skeptic club, Underdown said, "'Critical thinking skills, not just with this stuff, the idea of being able to know the difference between what's true and what isn’t, will serve you very well in your life in many different ideas"'.
Underdown has appeared in several feature films including Matt Walsh's The High Road, Super High Me with Doug Benson, Wild Girls Gone with Matt Besser, and as former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo in Stephen Vittoria's Long Distance Revolutionary
- Underdown writes the Ask the Atheist blog on the Center for Inquiry's main website, https://centerforinquiry.org/. This humorous commentary on current issues that affect freethinkers is written through the eyes of a non-believer.
- "Dr. Phil and the Hummingbird" Article in November/December 2014 issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Underdown discusses how a well-known medium named Rebecca Rosen creates the illusion of speaking to the dead.
- Big Picture Science-Skeptic Check Underdown discusses vortex, ghosts and the Winchester Mystery House.
- "State Sponsored Quackery" Article in the November/December 2009 issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. Owen Hammer & James Underdown report on the IIG's ongoing investigation into California nursing standards concerning teaching therapeutic touch as continuing education units (CEUs).
- James Underdown summarizes the 2011 National Academy of Sciences Summit on Science, Entertainment and Education in this article for Skeptical Inquirer magazine. With a $225,000 grant from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, the symposium asked scientists and media representatives from Pixar and Disney to brainstorm creative ways to empower student learning in science. Underdown writes that "many a false belief rests on a poor understanding...of how the universe works" improving science education now will demystify public misunderstandings in the future. Some of the luminaries included Ralph Cicerone, Charles Vest, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and Brian Greene.
- "Mother (Nature) Dearest" OpEd in the August/September issue of Free Inquiry magazine. Can three hardcore atheists have a spiritual experience while hiking into the Grand Canyon?
- "They See Dead People: Or Do They?" Article in the September/October 2003 issue of Skeptical Inquirer magazine. How do TV mediums John Edward and James Van Praagh appear to be talking to the dead? The IIG discovered that what was actually said on the tape day, and what was broadcast to the public were "substantially different in the accuracy. They're getting rid of the wrong guesses... Once you pull back the curtain and see how it's done, it's not impressive at all."
- "The Evolution of Thought" OpEd in Spring 2001 issue of Free Inquiry magazine. Is secularism making progress? Seen through the lens of history, yes, it is!
- Religulous Movie review in the January 2009 issue of "Free Inquiry" magazine.
- "Mixing Religion and Humor" Article in the May 1998 issue of Freethought Today, a publication of the Freedom From Religion Foundation.
- "Nonsectarian Prayer is Oxymoronic" OpEd in Daily Breeze newspaper, July 20, 2000. How can the act of praying be nonsectarian when it assumes a religious perspective?
- He also contributed to The Chicago Reader's December "Year in Review" issues in 1995 and 1998.
- James Underdown is a regular guest on Senior Astronomer Seth Shostak's "Skeptical Sunday" episodes of SETI's weekly radio show and podcast Are We Alone?.
- He is also a regular on Bear Down: The Chicago Bears Podcast as Jim U-Boat and Fireman Pete.
- James Underdown once wrestled Victor the Wrestling Bear at the International Amphitheater in Chicago. Victor was there with trainer Tuffy Truesdale as a part of the Outdoors and Sportsman's Show. Underdown was one of the few challengers who knocked Victor to the mat, though the bear eventually won the match.
- "CFI Branches". Center for Inquiry. 2010. Retrieved September 5, 2011.
- "The Independent Investigations Group". Center for Inquiry. April 21, 2007. Retrieved September 5, 2011.
- "POINT OF INQUIRY podcast: Dec. 12, 2019". pointofinquiry.org/. CFI. Retrieved January 10, 2020.
- "The IIG $100,000 Paranormal Challenge". IIG. Retrieved September 6, 2013.
- "One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge". randi.org. October 30, 2008. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
- Springfield Journal, June 30, 1988 "Calumet City Wants Poet to take his Title Elsewhere"
- "DePauw Dedicates $7.2 Million Lilly Physical Education and Recreation Center". DePauw University. April 24, 1982. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
- "DePauw Football Lettermen P-Z". DePauw Football. Archived from the original on September 5, 2008. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
- Barbara Snyder Wintner, Daily Herald, January 27, 1992, "Poet may be Witty, but not in Calumet City"
- John K. Hoffman, The Daily Journal, June 20, 1989, "Wheaton-bred 'Poet Laureate' Ryhmes of Life from Calumet"
- "James Underdown talks about his Bear Wrestling days with Ray Hyman & Scott Nopp". Retrieved August 10, 2012.
- "Dear Father". Retrieved September 19, 2011.
- "Freethought Video Night". CFI West. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
- "'The Lion in Winter' boasts a regal lead". LA Times. March 14, 2004. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
- "Party of 13". Theater Mania. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
- "REALITY REVIVAL:An Old-Fastioned Revival meeting with an atheist twist!". CFI West. Archived from the original on December 22, 2004. Retrieved September 19, 2011.
- "Heathens". iTunes. Retrieved March 29, 2013.
- The Times, July 8, 1988, "Today"
- Zorn, Eric (June 29, 1988). "Calumet City Seems To Take Little Pity On Self-proclaimed Poet Laureate". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 10, 2011.
- Mary Glynn, Daily Calumet, July 8, 1988, "If He's a Poet, Officials Don't Know it: But Support, Residents Show it"
- USA Today, June 30, 1988, "News From Every State"
- "About Us". Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre. Archived from the original on July 24, 2011. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
- Jacob Clark, NoHo LA, March 1–14, 2005, "Cops", page 16
- "THEATER; A Very Model Of a Modern Meta-Musical". The New York Times. December 7, 2007. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
- "Point Of Inquiry podcast announces new co-hosts Kavin Senapathy and James Underdown". CFI. Center for Inquiry. October 15, 2018. Archived from the original on April 27, 2019.
- Ortega, Tony. "Introducing The Cult Awreness Podcast". The Underground Bunker. Retrieved September 13, 2019.
- Underdown, James. "Bitter Psychic?". CFI. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
- "Inside the Other Side". Dr. Phil. Retrieved May 26, 2012.
- "Walking with the Psychic Blues". Skepticality. July 3, 2012. Retrieved July 4, 2012.
- "Weird or What? "Mind Control War"". Discovery Channel. June 2, 2010. Retrieved February 7, 2011.
- "James Underdown". www.imdb.com. Retrieved July 20, 2011.
- "Penn & Teller: Bullsh**!: Talking to the Dead Episode Summary on". Tv.com. Retrieved November 4, 2010.
- "Guardian Angel: Video Expert Re-Creation | Guardian Angel: Video Expert Re-Creation". Oprah Winfrey Network. January 20, 2011. Retrieved January 28, 2011.
- "ReasonFest11". Unreasonable Faith. April 29, 2011. Archived from the original on May 2, 2011. Retrieved May 11, 2011.
- "James Underdown (3 of 4) @ ReasonFest 2011". YouTube. June 15, 2011. Retrieved June 15, 2011.
- "Making UFO's: Reality and Illusion". Randi.org. 2011. Archived from the original on July 21, 2011. Retrieved July 18, 2011.
- "Битва экстрасенсов / Жюри / Сезон 10". 2012. Archived from the original on March 23, 2012. Retrieved March 23, 2012.
- "Битва экстрасенсов / Жюри / Сезон 10". 2012. Retrieved March 26, 2012.
- Robert G. Ingersoll. "Secularism - A Short Film". The Secular Human. Retrieved April 5, 2012.
- Brown, Chris. "The Amazing Meeting 2012: James Underdown". JREF. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
- Rengifo, Alci. "Professional skeptic debunks paranormal at SMC". Santa Monica College. Retrieved September 29, 2013.
- "Skeptic Check: Energy Vortex". Big Picture Science. January 23, 2012. Retrieved February 26, 2012.
- "State Sponsored Quackery Feng Shui and Snake Oil for California Nurses". November–December 2009. Retrieved June 12, 2011.
- Underdown, James (May–June 2011). "When Entertainment Meets Science: Summit Boosts Innovative Education". Skeptical Inquirer. CSICOP. 35 (3): 5.
- "They See Dead People - Or Do They? An Investigation of Television Mediums". Skeptical Inquirer. September–October 2003. Retrieved September 10, 2011.
- "Putting Psychics to the Test". Chicago Tribune. September 21, 2011. Retrieved September 12, 2011.
- "The Evolution of Thought". Council for Secular Humanism. July 21, 2011. Retrieved July 21, 2011.
- "Review: Religulus". Council for Secular Humanism. July 21, 2011. Retrieved July 21, 2011.
- "Mixing Religion & Humor". Freedom From Religion Foundation. May 1998. Retrieved July 21, 2011.
- "Skeptic Check: Diluted Thinking; The Hollywood Reality Check". SETI. February 28, 2011. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
- "Skeptic Check: Conspiracy; The Hollywood Reality Check". SETI. April 5, 2010. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
- "Skeptic Check: Superstition; The Hollywood Reality Check". SETI. August 16, 2010. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
- "Skeptic Check: Playing Doctor; The Hollywood Reality Check". SETI. July 12, 2010. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
- "Skeptic Check: ESP or Think Again; The Hollywood Reality Check". SETI. July 12, 2010. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
- "Skeptic Check: Sheer Lunacy; The Hollywood Reality Check". SETI. July 12, 2010. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
- "Skeptical Sunday: is Ignorance Bliss?; The Hollywood Reality Check". SETI. July 12, 2010. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
- "Skeptical Sunday: Take a Number; The Hollywood Reality Check". SETI. July 12, 2010. Retrieved May 9, 2011.
- "Bear Down: Meet the Crew". Bear Down. 2010. Retrieved June 10, 2011.