Funny Things

That, it appears, is not really me. How do I know? Well, I say ‘funny’, I thought it went well. Yes, yes, ‘Evaluation rules’, blah, blah, ‘If you didn’t measure it, it didn’t happen’, blah, blah, blah. Thing is, who is comedy for? I hope to provide two sides to it.

Wolverhampton was recently stated as being the unhappiest place in the UK in reports from the Office for National Statistics. As a retort to this affront, Funny Things was born; Wolverhampton’s first comedy festival. Within seconds of finding out about it, I pitched a return of BrightClubBirmingham to Jenny Smith. It has been a while since we held one and I missed it. So I got invited to the open meeting to register an expression of interest where I’d arranged to meet up with Martin Khechara, Public Engagement Fellow from University of Wolverhampton.

The samosas were perfect and the wine was plentiful, so deciding how we could run a joint Wolves-Brum Bright Club night was ridiculously easy. Fill in the paper and away we go! Then, the further thought occurred that we should submit a proposal for a second show. Both were accepted and were entirely different.

First up, Bright Club! seven researchers and academics from both universities got trained and wrote their own material related to their research. Paul Duncan McGarrity, of ‘Ask an Archaeologist’ and Radio 4 compered the night and a capacity audience in the Tilstone Studio of the Arena Theatre laughed in all the right places. So the audience enjoyed it, but the there is no doubt that the performers accomplished something special. It takes a lot to translate something academic into something funny, not just in terms of language, but in tone and message. An example from #BrumSciComm regular, Coralie Acheson’s performance shows how it works. Does she look like she’s not enjoying this experience? Anyone that does stand up, comes round to wanting to do more. It’s such a drug.

So you can only imagine how the same concept resonates around my very excitable mind. And, the further issue is that Martin also displays the same excitability as me. As a result, everything we ever do, we are inclined to believe is brilliant and epic. We have to work a little harder to ensure that the audience gets the experience we believe we are offering. We want peer feedback, which isn’t always available when your audience is small and performances are both sporadic and quite anarchic in delivery; it’s never exactly the same show twice.

By their nature, comedy shows that are quite different to the traditional idea of stand up, and especially when the word ‘science’ is used, can appear to slightly esoteric or niche. So we didn’t get a huge audience for a show called the ‘Magical Science of the Dangerous’, presented by two recovering scientists and stuffed full of demos. All these present additional challenges as big crowds with clear expectations tend to laugh more readily.

In fact, because we knew that the jokes were bad and heavy with dreadful puns, we’d almost planned to present little in the way of laughs (specially clever ones) except those directed at us, rather than with us. Yet the audience were with us until the end and there were appropriate emotional responses throughout. People were repulsed when we expected them to be. The were silent when we expected them to be. One guy, Dave, even came up to us at the end to tell us how much he loved the show and suggested we should tour it in schools.

What surprised him was that we’d never actually worked on a show together, that was the first every run, we had little in the way of a script and we’d rehearsed a few of the demos for health and safety reasons.

What else did we get from it? Well, it was the first time I’d done filming with green screen and embedded that into a show so that it acted to paint the scene for the performance. I will make it available soon on the video page

So, this is my way of starting to reflect on the show, in quite a cathartic and public manner. If you saw any of the show on Thursday night in the Giffard Arms, drop me a line to tell me what you thought. We want to make the show better.