When I told friends I was planning to spend the evening watching university academics doing stand-up comedy, the response was a look of confusion and a placatory “That should be…interesting.”
Academics and comedians normally form completely non-intersecting parts of a Venn diagram. After all, what is funny about a gamma ray burst, tree conservation or crayfish? When was the last time a seminar on genetics cracked you up with laughter? To be fair, I do often hear mathematicians making jokes, but normally they are so obscure that only the 3 other people in the room would have a clue why they were funny.
So I really didn’t know what to expect when I went along to Edinburgh’s first Bright Club at the City Cafe on Blair Street. I certainly didn’t expect there to be a long queue at the door because all the tickets were sold out! After a tense wait I was relieved to find myself inside, albeit with standing room only. In a stroke of luck, I spotted my colleague and fellow tweeter Karon McBride who squeezed me in on the seat beside her. She explained that she was quite interested at having a go at the comedy herself and was excited to see how the first session went.
Well, I don’t think that any of you readers are going to be surprised when I say that it was a fantastic evening. Steve Cross, the founder of Bright Club, came all the way from London to start the proceedings, and we had the enthusiastically foul-mouthed Susan Morrison as our compère for the night. The first academic was none other than fellow mathematics PhD student Hari Srithkantha, which I’m very proud of because it was me who encouraged him to sign up for Bright Club! Hari is already making a name for himself in stand-up, taking part in the Chortle Student Comedy Awards and playing gigs around Edinburgh. However, it was great to listen to him making his research (into gamma ray bursts) the butt of his gags, which I think is something he hadn’t tried before. Even more than that, it was great to find out what he was actually researching! He is probably only the second person (after Matt Parker) to use a graph to make the audience laugh.
Of the other 7 academics, I don’t think any of them had tried stand-up before, so I was really really impressed with their efforts. Highlights for me were Dan Ridley-Ellis, who talked about the stiffness of wood but managed to avoid all the obvious jokes, Zara Gladman, a zoologist studying crayfish who wrote a song about how they are damaging our ecosystems, and Dan Arnold, who talked about uncertainty and ‘unknown unknowns’. As well as laughing for the whole two hours, I also felt like I learnt a lot about all the science topics on offer, and thought it was an unexpectedly brilliant way of doing public engagement with science.
It is also great to see the nationwide news coverage that Bright Club is getting. The BBC covered the story back in February and the Edinburgh Evening News wrote an article earlier this week. BBC Radio Scotland are running a piece on Friday at 13:15 as part of their Comedy Cafe and there is going to be a BBC Fringe show in Edinburgh on 24th August with all the academics doing the show again. So if you missed it then don’t worry, there will be a chance to catch up – but only if you’re quick! Tickets for the BBC show are only available until 8th August (despite what it says on the website) so make sure you sign up pronto!
Bright Club is going to be a monthly event in Edinburgh, so I look forward to seeing Karon and other academics getting on stage and making people laugh with their research. It’s going to take a lot more persuading to get me to think about having a go though!