I’m not an expert but….
So we went to see Uncaged Monkeys last Friday and I feel a bit annoyed and underwhelmed at the whole experience. I’m not sure how controversial I’m allowed to get in public so I’ll start by telling you what I did like about it all!
I like that these guys have made science popular again. The whole theatre was full to bursting, everyone there an advocate of Carl Sagan and Feynman. I think that this is fantastic. Not so long ago you wouldn’t see a theatre packed on a Friday night, in Manchester, for people waiting to see popular science. And the audience were of all ages too. Another plus point of course, always great to inspire the newbies (though I know a lot of the audience are just there to see Coxy in the flesh!).
Another great bit was the use of Twitter for the Q&A session, really clever! (But I felt that there weren’t many questions answered and none of them were about science really. It descended into a silly slanging match between the Monkeys and then private jokes and comments about Brian’s hair.) These people want to learn, let them learn!!
These things are great and I admire the work the Monkeys have been doing over the years to get to where they have today.
OK. Here comes the but. Now honestly, who am I to criticise other people’s work? I hate people like me who are ‘nobodies’ and then tell people what to do and how to do it. Like those who can’t sing having a go at Simon Cowell for not letting them through to the next round…
I felt a bit like Uncaged Monkeys was a crapper, ‘middle aged man’ version of the simply brilliant Bright Club, run by UCL once a month in a pub in London.
We sat there at Monkeys barely moving, let alone laughing or being ‘wowed’. I’d heard the jokes before. I’d heard the science before. I’d seen the demos before. And that wasn’t just because I knew half of the acts on the stage, nor because I am a scientist myself. To top it off the tickets cost £30 a pop. The format was ok but seemed a bit unfinished, the slides were all run from different laptops and the speakers ran over time and had to race to finish. I wondered a few times whether I’d walked into an old Manchester Uni lecture course rather than something that was supposed to be energetic and inspiring.
Now, Bright Club is a thinking man’s variety night. A night of music, comedy and science. Here you will find even the scientists are funny. I’ve been to a few and been in a few and they have always delivered. They are packed out month after month and a steal at £5 entry. They are slick beyond belief and everyone has to turn up early for sound checks and presentation uploading.
I understand that science is always going to be a testosterone festival, but at least Bright Club tries to even things out a bit. All the scientists at Monkeys were men. They were all older men too. Where were the young, enthusiastic, bright-eyed young women on the stage? I got annoyed sitting there listening to the all boys club, I felt like I was back at uni with ‘those’ geeky physics boys. You know who you are.
Sorry to burst any bubbles but whilst Coxy and co. are great at what they do and I admire their work, if you scratch away at the surface they remind me of my peers from when I was at uni. Nothing wrong with that at all, just nothing ‘special’ about that either. So take off those rose-tinted glasses please!
Talking of the boys, now it is time to mention the girls…
The women who performed at UM were amazing! Helencomedienne was engaging and sweet, Helensinger was crude and sassy. They both used new material, they were witty and funny. I liked them. More please!
(I’m not a crazed feminist either, so no comments on me being biased about the fairer sex!).
Now I’ve mentioned new material I do need to chat about it. When I do sets at Bright Club I make the material up myself. This is risky as it does mean it can fall flat, but sometimes the audience appreciate the funny side of it and the house goes mental. And then I can sit back and think “I wrote that, they are laughing at something I made funny.” It feels great. And because it is new material I know that no one else would have seen it before. Much funnier than the old spherical chicken joke. Of course I had to be trained in all this (kudos to you who taught me), and I’m still learning a lot every day, I’m not saying I’m amazing at it by any means. But at least no one will have heard the jokes before (apart from my other half on whom I practise). If Bright Club expects us scientists to make up our own jokes, can’t the Monkeys do it too?
Maybe the problem for UM was the venue. Bright Club is in a little pub in London whereas UM has to tour and has to speak to the masses. Its easier when you know that your audience is over 18s, who’ve hopefully had a few beers to boot. People in pubs are generally happy and you don’t have to worry about your language upsetting anyone!
I’m not sure what the point of this little rant is, nor the take home message. I guess I just wanted to get across how great Bright Club is, and how I think UM needs updating. I hope I haven’t come across bitchy or jealous, because I’m neither of those things! I want this stuff to come across more like constructive criticism rather than a rollicking. And I know this is a slightly slanted view because I’m already a scientist and already a science communicator.
So to summarize:
1. UM was great if you have never been exposed to popular science before and if you love Coxy. But.
2. We need to make sure these things are slick, current, fresh, informative and funny.
3. And we need more women on the stage to stop it feeling like an all boys club.
Of course I’d love to be on the big stage like the Monkeys, and having seen them in the flesh I honestly feel like my time will come. I would have fit nicely up there on Friday, and I would have taught everyone something and made them laugh too!
Sigh. Post over. Gosh I’ve done a lot of work this weekend on the train to and from Preston! My fingers hurt. Better carry on with that thesis typing before said fingers fall off.
Hopefully no hard feelings between me and the Monkey boys. I’m happy to have comments on what I’ve written, constructive or not!