Funny science at the Edinburgh Fringe


For those of you who like a dash of physics and a smattering of biology with your chuckles, there are some good shows which should fit the bill at the Edinburgh Fringe.

I’ve just come back from the festival after spending six days doing a mixture of getting drenched, laughing hard at some brilliantly funny shows, looking for the nearest exit at some spectacularly unfunny ones, and just generally enjoying the buzz.

Choosing shows to see can be potluck, and this year I saw more than my fair share of stinkers, but I also was fortunate enough to catch some gems too, some of those with a science bent.

All the science ones I saw were part of PBH’s Free Fringe, which, aside from the usual categories of comedy, cabaret, theatre etc, also included one on ‘science and rationalism’ in its guidebook.

One of the first I went to was ‘Carl Sagan is my God, oh and Richard Feynman too’, hosted by Robin Ince, and features special guests from the world of science of comedy.

In the show I saw, first up was comedian Matt Kirshen, holder of a maths degree and teller of some very funny stories such as his visit to a scientology museum when he was over in the states.

The show also included a good turn from Dr Phil Hammond, who also his own show on at the Fringe.

Incredibly, this was just one of four free shows Robin Ince was doing – per day. I saw two of his other shows, one at 7.15pm called ‘Star Corpse Apple Child’ (the title was never explained, so I’m just as clueless as you), and his 9.30pm one, ‘Robin Ince’s Struggle for Existence’, which he described as his ‘spill-over show’ with material he couldn’t fit into the other ones.

By the 9.30pm one, Ince’s voice was hoarse and he admitted he might have overdone it by doing four shows a day. But given that each of the three shows I saw had a packed audience, with people forced to stand along the walls for lack of space, I’d say people are glad he’s doing as many shows as he is.

Another free show, which wasn’t strictly about science but included a section where an audience member was asked to act out Doppler spectroscopy, was ‘A Slightly Dangerous Comedy Occasion’. The show featured three acts doing their own stand-up, compered by a fourth, Rob Wells, in a tiny, hot room at the top of a pub on the Royal Mile.

In a gap between two acts, Wells, who has a physics degree, insisted on explaining how we can detect planets we can’t see directly by getting a man from the audience to don a yellow poncho and embody the ‘sun’.

This involved him standing on his chair and turning on the spot while swivelling his hips away from whoever was holding the balloon, or a ‘planet’, to demonstrate gravity at work. Pretty funny, and I’m sure a lot of audience members came away just that bit wiser.

Other science-related shows, which I didn’t see but I read about in the PBH Free Fringe guide, include ‘Space: The Final Fringier’, where for two nights, the Royal Observatory opens its doors for a look into the wonders of the universe, accompanied by specialists and peformers. The remaining show is at 6-7.30pm on August 18.

There’s a one-off show, ‘Festival of the Spoken Nerd’, at 6.45-7.45pm on August 16, where musical comedian Helen Arney, stand-up mathematician Matt Parker and guerrilla scientist Steve Mould present a mix of science, comedy, music and maths.

‘At the Fringe of Reason’, hosted by the Skeptics on the Fringe, takes place daily from 8.30-9.30pm, with academics and performers presenting fun and informative talks on subjects ranging from ghosts to homeopathy to sex.

‘Helen Keen’s Spacetacular!’, at 8.25-9.20pm on August 15 and 22, features a science/fancy dress/tinfoil stand-up space celebration, with the creator of BBC Radio 4’s ‘It is Rocket Science’, along with special guests.

‘Richard Dawkins does not exist. And we can prove it.’, involves two comedians setting out to disprove the existence of the professor using maths, science, and some props – I didn’t get a chance to see this, but it looked good.

My top picks of the other shows I saw (not related to science):

Holly Walsh – The Hollycopter: Very funny show about her experience of jumping off a 40ft pier in a homemade helicopter and then spending four days in hospital. She’s a natural at comedy, very engaging, and great banter with the audience.

Matt Kirshen: Wide-eyed: Highly recommended, and also one of the friendliest and most approachable comedians I saw. One of the highlights was when a man came in late, and Kirshen asked where he was from, to which he replied: “You know where I’m from”. This wasn’t an aggressive line: after a couple of seconds, Kirshen realised that he had been a babysitter for the man’s children.

Best of So You Think You’re Funny? I think the comedians change every night, but when I went, the compere was Kerry Godliman, and other good acts on were Jason John Whitehead (and his mission to reclaim the world from the ‘bastard children’) and Matt Green. It can be a gamble, but these three were all brilliant, so it meant a win for me.

The Boy with Tape on his Face: I saw this last year, but it was my highlight of the Edinburgh Fringe 2010, and was a fantastic, funny and magical experience – make sure you catch him this year if you haven’t already.

BUG hosted by Adam Buxton: I wasn’t actually able to see this show because it’s only on from August 25-29, but any Adam and Joe fans will want to snap this up immediately. Adam will be showing you funny music videos from around the world – what’s not to love?

The Real MacGuffins: Skitsophrenic: If daft sketches are your thing, you won’t go wrong with this rib-tickling one, directed by Cal McCrystal from the Mighty Boosh.

So if you’re heading up there, have a great Edinburgh Fringe 2011 – and pack a poncho.


For more details on all the PBH Free Fringe shows mentioned above, visit http://www.freefringe.org.uk/, or visit http://www.edfringe.com/ for a full guide of everything on at the festival.

© Melanie Hall 2017