UCL Department of Science and Technology Studies


Chiara shines at Bright Club

2 December 2010


Illuminating STS to the public eye

On 26th October, STS’s very own Chiara Ambrosio took to the stage of a sold out Bloomsbury theatre to both entertain and educate us through an original concoction of standup comedy and intellectual edification. This is the premise of Bright Club, a collaborative effort from comedians and academics at a fresh, fun approach at bringing science to society. Having thoroughly enjoyed both Chiara’s performance and the entire show myself, I took it upon myself to find out her side of the story:

AM: What made you want to perform at Bright Club?

CA: I got an invitation from Steve Cross, head of public engagement at UCL, who tries to connect academics with the people ‘out there’. I was already involved in bringing philosophy to the public, and my fear was that the public would be too scared to approach anything to do with philosophy of science - so I thought comedy would be a good way to start!

AM: Why do you think people are scared of philosophy?

CA: I think there is this idea that philosophy is just for a few people who are philosophically minded, and that it’s a very difficult discipline (perhaps because some philosophers think they need to make their theories very complicated) so the public don’t bother to approach it at all. But philosophy is first and foremost the pursuit of wisdom, and everybody wants to pursue wisdom at some point in their life.

AM: Do you think Bright Club works?

CA: Yes - the fact that there were 550 people and standing only tickets being sold on the night means there is a lot of interest. It generates knowledge too - after one of my previous performances somebody came to me and said ‘I had no idea of this connection between art and non-Euclidean geometries, it’s very interesting. I am going to look it up.’ I think comedy can work as a glue between science and society that hasn’t yet been explored in all its possibilities.

AM: How did it feel onstage?

CA: I was very scared. I’m a very sociable person and have no problem lecturing in front of a lot of people, but at conferences you can talk the technical jargon to impress the audience; with Bright Club I was well aware there would be 550 people watching me and I was scared because humour is culture dependent – what’s funny for me as an Italian speaker might not have worked for an English audience.

AM: Did you have lessons?

CA: The nice thing about Bright Club is that we get training and advice on how to compose a comedy set – comedy is about content but won’t pass unless you bring in a character, and my Italian character was natural – a very extreme version of myself! So in my performance I emphasised my strong accent and Italian characteristics.

AM: Would you do it again?

CA: Oh yes. This set was about how artists, particularly Picasso, used non-Euclidean geometry and the concept of the fourth dimension in their art. Then there was a funny sex thing linked to the fact that Picasso was a womaniser on top of the message I wanted to convey to the public: even when we think about fine art, science becomes very relevant. What I’d like to do in the next set is bring in some stronger philosophical themes, which are very suitable for standup comedy.

AM: Did you, as an academic, get on with the comedians?

CA: Some of the comedians were really charming but there was one particular comedian who got on my nerves, because he had a very naïve view of science. I told him off for always talking about the history of the ‘winners’ – Einstein, Penrose – very recognisable names. Why do we always make history about the winners when there are a lot of other less known scientists who did a hell of a job but are completely neglected by history of science?

AM: Who is the next person in STS you think should perform at Bright Club?

CA: Andy Gregory! He has a fantastic sense of humour and I think he would do great onstage.

Bright club is a cheap, fun, intellectual evening out. The next BC is on the 13th December, see www.brightclub.org for details.

Alex Mankoo.