Sex, maths, monogamy and a laugh from the labs at the Cambridge Science Festival

By Culture24 Reporter | 11 February 2014

The comedy bill alone should stimulate a few cells at this year's Cambridge Science Festival

A photo of two men standing around laughing in nothing but a pair of gold underpants
Tom Roden and Pete Shenton present comedy show Feel About your Body under their New Art Club act as part of this year's Cambridge Science Festival© Chris Nash
Comedy about science, as suggested by the opening punchline from Cambridge Science Festival - an electron and a positron walk into a bar - can be painful. Tom Roden and Pete Shenton’s mix of stand-up and choreography, for example, features renal introspection as part of the highly-rated show.

Mathematician Matt Parker, meanwhile, uses Rubik’s Cubes and binary numbers in a hybrid which has sold out the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the Melbourne Comedy Festival and performances in the West End.

“I don’t think comedy about science is about offering the audience a carefully-crafted lesson module on particle physics or epigenetics,” ponders Robin Ince, a regular at the festival who’s bringing his new cerebral circumnavigation, Robin Ince is (in and) out of his Mind, to the bill.

“But what it can hopefully do is enthuse people to want to know more from people who are far wiser than me.

A photo of a man sitting on a chair while a photo montage of hands surround him
Robin Ince goes inside his head on March 16© Steve Ullathorne
“This year I have tried to tackle the human mind in my show. Having spent the last six months reading about it, I am now in disarray, discovering possibilities such as ‘free will is an illusion’, that many of my personality flaws were formed in the womb, that my inner monologue is still getting used to not being the voice of a god, and that my trepanning equipment may be less use than I imagined.

“Considering we have the most complex thing in the known universe in our head, I am relieved to think that we don't know much of the universe yet and there may be something with a less confusing and confused brain structure and mind out there.

“I have an inkling that I will be more confused after this show than I was before I started delving into this whole sorry mess of a head of mine.”

While Ince sets his sights on the last century of psychiatry and psychology, Rosie Wilby – a “disgruntled serial monogamist” whose sequel to her sell-out The Science of Sex Show is called Is Monogamy Dead? – seeks a solution to a relationship conundrum.

"I've started wondering if in order to be happy, human beings need both the loving security and companionship of a partner and the passion offered up by a lover,” asks the comedian whose previous show was a memento of a failed Britpop band.

“These two distinct sets of needs are rarely met by the same person at the same time.

“If we could ever establish a society where having one of each was the norm, then maybe we could eradicate the need for affairs entirely."

There are, as usual, hundreds of events to choose from for committed and less faithful lovers at the festival this year. Of the comedy nights, Bright Club also features academics talking jovially about their careers.

“Often they’ve never done stand-up comedy before,” warns organiser Dr Andrew Holding.

"But it works because the strangeness and obscurity of life in the lab varies from the bizarre to the downright incomprehensible.

“So not only is it good for a laugh, but it also covers some of the most fascinating, and often obscure, research happening in the UK right at this very moment.” His conclusion could be a neat summary of the festival as a whole.

What do you think? Leave a comment below.

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