Great stand-up comedy can shock you and cause you to re-evaluate your view of the world. Most importantly, however, it can make you laugh your head off (hopefully not literally). One of the big challenges with science-themed comedy is that many people view science – especially physics – as an interesting yet abstract activity, done by people they never come across in everyday life. As Andrew Glester finds in the latest Physics World podcast, this perception of science can also bring fresh opportunities for comedians.
In his quest to find out what makes good science comedy, Glester meets performers at the Green Man festival in Wales and the Edinburgh Fringe festival in Scotland, both of which took place in August. Among them is the actor, comedian and radio presenter Samantha Baines whose interest in science was boosted through a fixation with the “dishy” physicist (her word) Brian Cox. Baines’ Fringe show 1 Woman, a High-Flyer and a Flat Bottom celebrated women astronauts and space scientists and played to sell-out audiences throughout the festival.
Other performers featured in the podcast include astrophysicist Catherine Heymans and the improv group Captain Train, whose show Lowpothesis involves them interacting with scientists on stage. For each of the performers, Glester finds out why the comedians chose science as their source material and what they hope to achieve with the routines, beyond hopefully making the audience laugh. He also explores how it can be liberating and challenging to take science to the comedy circuit, a world where subject matter is usually more directly linked with people’s everyday experiences.
Glester reviewed several science-themed shows from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe for the October issue of Physics World. You can read his review here.