One of the few enduring life lessons I learnt during my time in halls is that some guilty pleasures are more acceptable than others. Even in the relatively tolerant enclave of Imperial College, pulling an all-nighter in the kitchen with your mates playing StarCraft until dawn will still draw some rolled eyes and tuts under the breath.
Making my way to the Festival of the Spoken Nerd, an unabashedly geeky comedy night run by three science grads, the memory of the StarCraft vilification was hard to shake. But, in the time it takes a femtosecond laser to pulse, my nervous pre-occupations were allayed and I found myself wallowing with aplomb in an oasis of geekiness.
FOTSN cater for the full spectrum of nerds from, as they put it, the ones who code for a hobby, right through to those who just like The Big Bang Theory. Most notable out of the troupe is ukulelist Helen Arney, an ex-Imperial physics student, whose ditties weave astute (scientific) observations in amongst their cheery chords. As reading some of our competition-winning π-kus she shared the all-too-oft-quoted Imperial maxim, “the goods are odd, but the odds are good”, I’ll admit I had my head in my hands. But having convinced the audience to sing-a-long to a googol (if not googolplex), she’d restored my faith in Imperial. Joining her on stage were Blue Peter’s very own resident science expert, Steve Mould, and Matt Parker, a man of contrasting talents, describing himself as a stand-up mathematician.
One of the early surprises of the night came as they asked the audience not to turn off their phones and I found myself leaning in for a double take. My ears weren’t deceiving me but rather, all three of the hosts being big in the twittersphere, they encouraged live tweeting throughout the show. In what might’ve been something of a mixed blessing, this meant that at times when your attention span was running short you could readily reach for your phone for distraction and it introduced a novel vein of audience interaction that I’m amazed isn’t used more widely.
The dynamic interplay between the trio maintains the evening’s high-tempo; the deadpan style of Matt Parker is counterweighted by the mischievous Mould whilst Arney adds a touch of down-to-earth charm. Never at any point in the night did I feel overwhelmed by the science, making the experience a pleasant break from lectures. Instead what it offered are short digestible skits that draw on science enough to leave you feeling stimulated whilst tapping the comic potential of the day-to-day science we commonly know.
To call it revision might be something of an exaggeration, but what it lacks in applicable exam knowledge it makes up in more subtle ways. I don’t think I’m alone in having had my love of science tested during the trials and tribulations of an undergraduate degree. I came out of FOTSN with my chest puffed out and filled with that fuck-yeah feeling that physics hadn’t sparked in me for some time. We’ve all got a geek inside of us and it pays to indulge it, at least once in a while.
You can see FOTSN at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 1–7 August.