When they appear on stage, Heather Knight, a robotics graduate student, and Data, her stand-up-comedy-performing robot, seem like a futuristic Odd Couple. Ms. Knight is tall, blond and human while Data—sheathed in a white plastic shell and about a third her size—resembles a RoboCop action figure.
Data plays the feisty star; Ms. Knight takes on the role of the “straight man.” At a performance last year, Data, perched on a stool, waved to the crowd. “I would say it’s a pleasure to be here, but I am a robot and don’t know emotion,” he said in a fittingly electronic voice. Then he turned his head slowly toward Ms. Knight and pointed at her with his left arm. “Heather, how about you get working on that emotion program?” he asked. “I am, Data!” she responded, in a mock-defensive tone.