So last night I went to the latest of Robin Ince’s science-themed, rationalist, comedy and music shows, A Night of 400 Billion Stars (And Maybe Some String Theory). Here are some scattered thoughts about it, loosely strung together in a way that can’t really be called a “review”.
Robin Ince is still utterly superb. The many hours of sleep he hadn’t got over the last couple of days since Glastonbury didn’t seem to slow him down at all, although I’m pretty sure he did introduce the show at the very start as “A Night of 40 Billion Stars”, which might have meant we were being short-changed on an unprecedentedly vast scale. (Seriously, that’s 360,000,000,000 massive balls of roiling nuclear energy which were on the bill but weren’t provided. If that doesn’t merit a partial refund, I don’t know what does.)
The music was pretty consistently good, I thought. None of it spectacular, but a nice mix of stuff. I spent much of this morning muttering “Schnapps… Schnapps…” and feeling haunted by Martin White’s scary eyes. Darren Hayman was fun too, and Gavin Osborn, though I’ll probably have forgotten their names and what they were singing about fairly soon.
The comedy was what mainly made it worthwhile, though, with most of the great stuff coming from the young female performers (and not just because I’m a young male comediphile). I don’t remember seeing Josie Long’s name on the bill, so she was a lovely surprise. Lucy Porter was as adorable as ever, and completely won at life both for a Tycho Brahe / Michael Jackson joke, and for a poem which was almost certainly the most lyrically awesome thing to happen to the periodic table since Tom Lehrer. Someone I didn’t know, and whose name I’ve just had to look up to find out that it’s Helen Keen, was a lot of fun to listen to talking about her list of favourite rocket scientists throughout history. Something about her style of speaking was a little reminiscent of Boris Johnson, which in my book (but possibly not everybody else’s) = awesome.
And, speaking of odd celebrity comparisons which are probably as undeserved as they are unflattering: Christina Martin (her wot invented the God Trumps card game that Robin Ince played with someone from the audience who’d brought her own deck along) is also fab, and I don’t want to say anything derogatory about her because she’s really nice and very funny and a splendiferous force for good in the world, but this is supposed to be about recording the thoughts I had about stuff, so I’m going to say it anyway. Something about her reminded me somewhat of a Catherine Tate character. Not any particular one, just generally. There’s not really anything to it, just something in her style of delivery happened to prod my brain into making that connection. My flatmate looked at me like I was a freak when I suggested it, though, so it’s almost certainly just a quirk of my oddness than anything she needs to worry about. Sorry, Christina. You’re much funnier than her. I’m subscribing to the New Humanist right now. Please don’t block me on Twitter.
The only quibble of any import that I had was about the odd chunk of recycled material. Robin Ince barrels along with all his material at such a rate, and straddles the divide between being funny and scientifically informative so expertly, that it hardly matters, but there were a few lines I’d heard before at the godless show at Christmas (or possibly his stand-up gig more recently), and the closing extract from Feynman’s book was the same one as had closed the previous show. You have to know that a fair slice of your audience are going to be return visitors like me, who’ve seen the last show already, right?
And Simon Singh’s always great to hear speaking, but I’d been assuming that we’d get to hear something about the BCA case, as that’s what’s extremely topical in his life right now. I know there’s only so much that he’s at liberty to talk about, but some sort of update or summary of thoughts might have been good, of the type that he’s been giving in some of the interviews he’s done lately. (I didn’t manage to attend his recent appearance at Skeptics in the Pub, and kinda want to know exactly what I missed.) He’s still fun to see, but anyone who was there at the Christmas show doesn’t really need to revisit the Katie Melua story again, especially when there’s spine wizards to be mocked (a task mostly left up to Robin, and which he took to with his usual gusto).
He did get his gherkin out, though. I couldn’t see it when it went orange, because the podium was in the way, but I’m told it was an impressive sight.