This week I went to Science Showoff – an “open mic night for communicators of science.” I’m always interested in different forms of public engagement but I must admit that the only reason I went along was because a friend of mine was performing. Having said that, I’m really glad I went. I’ve been involved in, and watched, numerous things in the name of public engagement but they often fail to communicate with anyone new or different. You tend to see the same people saying the same things at every event. Science Showoff was quite different – it was inside a nightclub at night for starters. Ten scientists took to the stage to talk about their research area in an entertaining and humorous way. It wasn’t officially stand-up comedy like Bright Club (which I’ve also seen) and I think that made it better as it took away the pressure to be constantly funny and allowed the performers a bit of freedom to do the “science bit”.
There were a couple of psychologists on – one chose to talk about romantic attraction and the other chose to talk about the peer-review process. The other eight performers included microbiology, primates, scepticism, and nomenclature! Although nomenclature sounds fairly dull, the performance was very funny indeed and possibly my favourite. I think some performers were nervous and had prepared a lot of material for nine minutes. I can understand this. The fear of having nothing to say in such a pressurised environment must be pretty strong. A few of them could have slowed down quite a lot and still been highly entertaining and educational though.
Despite interest and enthusiasm for public engagement I have never been tempted to take to the stage myself in front of a group of tipsy spectators expecting a laugh a minute. I admire those who are brave enough to do this and I think it communicates their subject in different way.