Tuesday, 7 April 2009

I'm back, from Outta Space!

Greetings Loyal readers. And Dave.

I've not done one of these for a loooooong time. That thing called a thesis keeps intruding. Recently handed in another draft, which was good overall, apart from being awful in places. The main problem is, for those of you who have a bizarre concern for my progress, that as I didn't do a Psychology BSc but a Neuroscience one (which is the correct way of doing things, if anyone ever asks), I lack the grounding in the correct terminology for discussing animal behavioural processes. I know what I'm talking about, but I don't know how to talk about what I'm talking about.
With me so far? This is a theme which has been prevalent during my blogs thus far, I'm sure you'll have noticed.
Anyhoo, I decided to write the blogs again on the off chance that they take your space from you if you stop. I've had no warning of this, and not heard of it happening to anyone, but given the credit crunch and all that, they might start renting my space out to an ex banker or something. To hell with Stewart Lee, I can do my own satire!
So, you may have noticed there's no link to an article at the top. Usual blog procedure is I find something on a Science news website (99.9% of the time its the BBC news website), discuss it in what I hope is an accurate but amusing manner, people read it, sometimes ponder on it, and promptly forget about it. But as it's my first one in a while I thought I'd discuss my own projects, so feel free to skip ahead to the promptly forgetting part.
Since we last 'spoke', my Science Comedy project 'Humourology' has taken off a bit more than I really anticipated. The story of Humourology thus far goes as follows.
Sometime last year, I believe it was around summertime, I can't be any more specific than that (try and pinpoint the exact time you had a specific thought and you'll see what I mean), I had the brainwave of finally combining my science and comedy experience into one project. At the time there was no title, but the possibility of a night of Science-based stand-up comedy was the general gist of it.
There are plenty of references to Science in comedy, usually with an anti-religion, anti-quackery intentions, or sometimes with the intent of showing off the performers intellectual abilities. The latter isn't always for the best, and relies on the common assumption that all scientists are more intelligent than the average person. This is a bit of an overestimate I feel, scientists just have knowledge of areas that are normally not well understood by the general public. For example, I know several people who are ardent football fans, they can recite team members and layouts going back decades, they can quote word-for-word the commentary during several 90 minute games, they know the problems with strategic structure and tactical approaches, but they aren't considered intelligent because there are many other people who can do the same thing.
Also, anyone who likes sport is a knuckle-dragging primate, so get bent.
But the general theme I've noticed is, if you talk about science without being a scientist, you're an intellectual. If you talk about science and you are a scientist, you're a nerd. Which seems unfair. And this is evidenced by the fact that most comedians who use science aren't scientists themselves. Many comedians who are scientists by trade (Dara O'Briain, Jo Brand, Harry Hill) rarely or never use science jokes.
I find this annoying, so decided it would be a good idea to do a comedy night that, a) Featured scientists doing science comedy on their own terms, or b) featured jokes about science for the sake of science, not as a means of attacking something else.
Seemed like a good idea. And like all of my good ideas, after an initial bout of enthusiasm, it soon died from lack of nourishment. Or more accurately, anticipating an upcoming barren period, entered a hibernation cycle, or dormant state if you were going with a plant analogy. Either way, the metaphor holds together.
Round about October time, I got involved with Laura (Hi Laura) in a purely professional capacity and offered to help out with Cardiff first Science festival that she was organising. I think. Or maybe I was enlisted based on earlier discussions. Either way, it happened.
One of the main reasons I never really got round to doing a science-comedy night to begin with was that I couldn't really see a good reason for doing so. I had my mates on the local scene who would obviously be happy to help put it on and take part, but to what end? The Cardiff comedy scene isn't like London, a lot of our audience are regular, they've seen me before, have no problem with my (or others) science stuff, so what would I achieve by doing such a show for them? As well as disrupting one of the regular nights the other guys run, it would probably look like a vanity exercise on my part, which it wasn't (not just that, anyway).
The point is, I genuinely want to get people to see that Scientists are also people. Regular, idiotic, fallible, bumbling people with opinions and feelings like a normal human. It pisses me off when the animal rights hypocrites attack scientists for being evil, because yeah, they're all massive twats for conducting research that, although unpleasant, could potentially save lives. Bloody Bernard Matthews or Tesco's effectively treat poultry like packing foam and the worst they get is a posh TV chef crying about it. People breed dogs to have skulls too small for their brains, a horrific thing to do, but they don't get their grans dug up and held to ransom, they get rosettes at crufts.
A rant, yes. But I feel it's justified. The reason, I think, that scientists get this over-enthusiastic negative bias is that people see them as detached from the general public. A sort of intellectual class-divide. I want to disprove that. Granted, a lot of scientists are very clever, people accuse me of that very thing, but that doesn't mean we're any better. But we're not nay worse either, and that's the thing I want to emphasise.
But yes, I wanted a night that shows Scientists in a good light. Comedy does that, it makes people like you. Or hate you, but then they laugh at you against their will, which is more impressive in a way.
So, Science festival. What better way to show Joe Public that we're not all borderline-sociopathic dweebs? I have to point out that there are many things with this intention that are ongoing, but to me there's either a sense of preaching to the choir or targeting the younger groups (under 14s, for example), which smacks of just writing off those older as a lost cause. I didn't want to do that, I wanted to put on a Science themed event that allowed alcohol consumption, sex references and the word 'fuck'. Because that's what normal people like (I'm told).
Oddly, the part for me that was the most successful was the preview thing I did at the Science Cafe. I may have mentioned this in another blog, but it was fun, and really did what I hoped for. Then came the first Humourology night. Just to point out, the night was confirmed and I was asked to supply a title asap, 'Humourology' is the best I could do at short notice. It's not good, but it sounds like it should be Latin for 'the science of comedy' (but it isn't). Ironically, the 'humours' were what the Romans believed were the four fluids in the body that maintained health, so the science of humours could be seen as the science of health. In other words, medicine. And what's the best medicine? That's right. It turns out I was being clever all along.
It went well, but it was undeniably a comedy night. This was because nobody (including me, if I'm honest) really knew what the structure was. It was fun, but I was going for a 50-50 science-comedy ratio, ended up being about 35-65 respectively. Still, was fun, people enjoyed.
Didn't know what to do with it then. Felt it still had places to go, but it what capacity. There are thousands (I think) of themed comedy nights around the country, and this triples during the month of August (work it out). But what would this be for?
Basically, I really didn't expect the level of enthusiasm people had for the project. The shows thus far were sell-outs (although free), far more people wanted to be involved than I could have anticipated, the support I was getting was somewhat alarming. Being as self critical as I am (see earlier paragraphs/blogs/routines/diaries) I assumed I'd be fighting an uphill battle at all times with this, but one that I'd enjoy fighting, as long as the risk of death remained as low as it is in normal stand up gigs (Jongleurs is outside the typical range, depending on the city/night/number of stag parties in the crowd).
In March, I organised another gig for NSEW, National Science and Engineering Week, which came a close second to National Pie Week, which occurred on the same week. Clearly, there is much still to be done. But this one was a free gig in the large lecture theatre at Cardiff University Main Building.
That night, had about 100 in again, which is very good for a 'niche' gig. But everyone seemed to enjoy (apart from some bloke on Twitter who felt it was more comedy than Science, and that this was a bad thing). And the use of powerpoint seemed to really help matters. Much easier to incorporate Science material with a screen for your graphs/slides/data/diagrams/pointless pictures. Also, I hosted this night, as the person who organises the bloody things I figured I was the best equipped to explain what was going on. Due to some last minute cancellations, I had to extend my opening bit. Turns out I did nearly 40 minutes, without batting an eyelid, which is impressive. Even more impressive, everyone else seemed to really like it. Add up the intersecting bits from later sections, I've got nearly 60 minutes of stuff there.
But everyone was great that night (except Iszi, who was OK at best, she kept doing stuff about the Beach and I'm not really into that). It really 'worked'.
Since then, I'm booked to do 'Humourology' at Bath Comedy Festival (which is tomorrow), I've got 2 conference gigs lined up, one of which I believe is at the Royal Institute, which may be a first for a comedian. I've got several school speaking events lined up too, apparently I'm some sort of inspiration. Who knew? But I'll keep you posted as to what happens when.
So, long story short, I haven't got a job yet.


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