The biggest Science Showoff ever
By Katherine Aitchison, on 8 November 2012
“There are massive f***ing error bars on every adjective I’m going to use tonight.”
Those are the words every scientist wants to hear at the start of a comedy night. We like to be assured that all the jokes we’re about to hear have been properly tested and subjected to significance testing. Of course, if the error bars are massive then the results probably aren’t significant – but we won’t go into that.
So this was Science Showoff, a monthly open mic night for scientists, science communicators, science historians or anyone else in any way connected with the scientific world to come and be funny whilst talking about what they love. It’s a monthly event which has been running for just over a year and 7November saw the biggest Showoff to date in the Bloomsbury Theatre.
The whole show is put together without any budget: the performers perform for free and for the love of science, and the marketing (which pulled 300-400 people into a packed Bloomsbury Theatre) was mostly done through social media.
In a strategy compère Steve Cross described as “outrage marketing” he took to Twitter in an attempt to offend all branches of science in one day, and by doing so, gained legions of scientific followers. This probably says something about the kind of people who go into science, but I’ll allow you to draw your own conclusions.
The real up-side of working on such a limited (non-existent) budget is that the event generated more than £3,000 for local charity The Calthorpe Project.
In terms of the format for the evening, each act was given nine minutes to fill as they saw fit and we were treated to talks, demonstrations, singing, ranting and an enactment of the mating ritual of the Argentine lake duck.
The topics covered were equally varied – Sophie Scott told us all about how our ribcage separates us from the rest of the mammalian world (apart from when it comes to laughing), Jon Butterworth illustrated the premise behind the Large Hadron Collider using a Lego head in a bottle, and Mark Midownik explained his theory on how human civilisation has been driven by the quest for the perfect bowl of breakfast cereal.
Mixed in among the talking we even had time the musical musings of The Sound of the Ladies and Helen Arney.
But the runaway success of the night had to be Fran Scott, a professional science demonstration developer, who showed without a doubt that whatever age you are, and however deeply involved in serious scientific pursuits you may be, all any of us really want to do is spend an evening watching things explode and being set on fire.
If you need any more convincing to get behind the Science Showoff team, they’ve promised to answer any and all science questions you throw their way on Twitter. Use #massiveshowoff and @ScienceShowoff