CERN After Dark: Physicists Perform Standup Comedy To Spread Science Knowledge


Particle collider? I hardly know ‘er!

CERN, the massive multinational science laboratory that houses the Large Hadron Collider, is playing host to a slightly different sort of event Friday night: a comedy show. Six research scientists will take the stage, along with four professional comedians, at “LHComedy: CERN After Dark.” University of Cambridge physicist Sam Gregson, who organized the show, managed to squeeze in a quick phone interview after a rehearsal.

“The idea of the routines is that the amateur people, they try to explain their research using the medium of stand-up comedy,” Gregson says. “The public gets to meet the scientists, and we have a lot of fun; we’re trying to educate but also enjoying some jokes.”

Gregson will be incorporating some of his research on antimatter into his own routine. He says his biggest comedic influence is probably Robin Ince, who co-hosts “The Infinite Monkey Cage,” a humorous scientific show on BBC Radio 4.

His scientist colleagues that will also be performing are: Benjamin Frisch, who has worked on projects that apply particle detector knowledge to breast cancer diagnosis; Claire Lee, who works on the ATLAS experiment at the LHC; Hugo Day, who is interested in refining the design of particle accelerators themselves; Alex Brown, who works in CERN’s Knowledge Transfer Group; and Clara Nellist, who works on 3-dimensional silicon detectors (and who also made a zombie movie at the LHC).

Joining the scientists are geek-pop cabaret musician Jonny Berliner; South African comedian Pierre Novellie; and Belgian comedian Lieven Scheire. The event will be hosted by Helen Keen, an English comedian behind the BBC Radio 4 program “It Is Rocket Science,” which narrates the history of human spaceflight, with jokes.

If you can’t make it out to Switzerland on such short notice, fret not: the show will be recorded, and a livestream should be available once the show starts:

Be forewarned: some of the material might stray into adult themes, Gregson says!

If you find that scientific comedy tickles your funny bone, you may want to check out other venues where laughs and research collide. A program called Bright Club, where scientists get up and give funny presentations about their research, was conceived at University College London, but has inspired a franchise of nerdy comedy events through the U.K. and Australia. “Festival of the Spoken Nerd” brought science jokes to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Across the pond, the U.S. has a wealth of science-themed comedy: Tim Lee, a biologist who traded life in academia for open mics (“I didn’t want to write any more papers,” he told the New York Times in 2009); Brian Malow, a contributor to astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson’s radio show and the self-proclaimed Premier Science Comedian of Earth; and Norm Goldblatt, a physicist who performs comedy on the side.

“It’s not as limiting as it sounds,” Malow told the Times in 2009. “Science is in everything.”

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