Science Stand-up: Putting those Met Panto Skills to Good Use 

Max Coleman – m.r.coleman@pgr.reading.ac.uk  

A stage and red curtain

I’ve been keen to ‘do my bit’ for climate science communication for a while now. While I do like attending a good public lecture or seminar, I wanted to try something a bit different, particularly something I could bring my love of comedy into. So, when a science stand-up comedy event was pointed out to me (thanks to Tara Bryer of Climate Outreach!) I thought I’d give it a go. 

The event in question is ‘Science Showoff’, an event designed to communicate science via comedy. It’s held on the last Wednesday every month in London, currently held at The Harrison near Kings Cross station, and has been running for over 10 years. And it’s open to absolutely anyone to perform – no comedic credentials required. The only rules are it’s 9-minute sets, must be about something STEM related, and should (hopefully) be funny!  

I performed in the August event and decided to base my set broadly on my research field of modelling the effects of aerosols on climate. Basing the set on my research made it slightly easier as I knew the science content already and just needed to write the comedy – though one can definitely go for more adventurous topics. While to a non-scientist that might sound a bit dry, it’s actually not too difficult to come up with jokes about climate science – as anyone who’s helped write a Met Panto script will surely know.  

For example, framing it as an explanation of my hatred of something as innocuous as deodorant (which as it turns out, makes a decent low-effort physical demonstration of aerosols) seemed a good way to make content easier to understand and line up some more relatable jokes. Having a physical prop, even as simple as a deodorant can, also turned out to be an easy way to ‘wow’ the audience (they set a very low bar indeed for being impressed by my ‘live science’). There’s also a wealth of jokes from being a climate ‘modeller’ – you’ve just got to work it 😉 

On the day, while I was very nervous before the event and into the first minute or two of my set, after that it was great fun. The audience, of about 30 people, were incredibly friendly and the host, Steve, was very supportive. After all, while you’re there for comedy, there’s not much pressure as many of the acts (myself included) have never performed stand-up comedy before. The set mostly went to plan, though I did add a little improvisation in response to audience reactions when they liked a joke more than I’d expected, and when audience members were reluctant to participate – who’d have thought leading one of them into a joke at their expense would make the others so reluctant? It was also a lot of fun going from being an audience member worried about being picked on, to the one who gets to pick on people – the audience engagement was definitely the most enjoyable part.  

It was also huge fun just writing the set. I didn’t set myself loads of pressure, just occasionally thinking of jokes while walking or on the train and making a note of it, and then put it all together the weekend before and rehearsed the evening before. Again, if you’re ever helped write the Panto script or Sappo email, you’ll know how much fun this all can be (although I’m now regretting not getting pizza in while I wrote it).  

And as a bonus, I got to listen to the other five acts perform, sometimes riffing off my jokes too! We had everything from penguins in the Antarctic to the most embarrassing lab accidents you could imagine. The acts were by people from a range of scientific disciplines and backgrounds including PhD students, a lecturer, and a professional science communicator. 

I can’t say much more to describe the experience itself, but if you want an idea of what it’s like, you can check out some recorded previous sets (while there is some rather questionable footage of my own act, there is not a chance I’m sharing it here – I’m not that confident :P). Or of course, go attend the next Science Showoff or a similar science comedy event. 

What I would say though is if you also want to do climate science communication (or try a different format for it) and are a fan of comedy (looking at any and all Met Panto-ers especially here) then you should consider giving this a go! Yes, even if you’ve never done stand-up comedy before… I mean it can’t be more embarrassing than acting out a lecturer in Panto while they watch! 

Any questions about the experience or want to be persuaded to give it a try??? Feel free to comment or email me 🙂 

Met Department Summer BBQ 2019

On Friday the 14th of June at 6.30pm the Department of Meteorology had its 2019 summer BBQ! And what a fun, pleasant and well attended affair it was.

BBQ turnout – downtime for the department!

The weather that week had been especially awful, and the prospects of being able to have the BBQ outside were looking distinctly grim, but in a rather fluky stroke of luck, the weather took a rather unexpected turn for the better… and almost unbelievably, by Friday PM the grass was deemed dry enough – and therefore safe enough – for the event to be an outdoor, in-the-sun affair!

The event required a lot of preparation. For the most part this went smoothly, save for one or two things:

1: A sudden and panicky realisation on my part on the morning of the BBQ (thanks Michael L!) that we probably weren’t going to get very far without tongs/cooking implements of some kind! (This is my first Met BBQ, okay!)

2: The butcher delivery van going seriously AWOL (even from the butchers themselves). The van apparently departed the Reading depot at 9am and must have then gotten lost as it took them some 8 hours to find us! This caused some nerves to fray…

The event took off at 6.30pm and thanks to a small army of well-trained BBQing PhD students, both meat and plant-based sausages and burgers soon began to appear and (as we had slightly over ordered on the food front) attendees got offered seconds! No one present was to go hungry!

The BBQing army.

At around 8pm the perennial Hogs Back Band & caller began their ceilidh/barn dance. Many of us were duly terrified of this part of the evening, but such concerns quickly vanished following a few nervous giggles, a couple of bungled dance steps… and of course one or two beers. Before long, everyone, both dancers and onlookers, children and staff alike were totally caught up in the band’s buoyant jig, and all feeling of self-consciousness evaporated!

2 hours of ceilidh as it turns out, is incredibly tiring! I managed about half of the 10 dances and towards the end was beginning to seriously unravel at the seams. Perhaps a prize in future years for he or she who can manage to stick out every single dance? Surely one of the Met runners has the stamina?

As the evening drew to a close at 10pm I was impressed by the sustained, voluntary and joint effort of many to return the area to its original clean state. And, for those with energy to spare, the after-party with DJ Shonk and his new disco ball awaited!

A special thanks to Dan Shipley (one of the 2018 organisers) who despite supposedly having retired the year before, provided much help and advice at all stages of the planning and on the day! Numerous others also contributed in ways both big and small to make the event the success that it was. Thank you! Long live this particular Met Department tradition!

The ceilidh in full swing!