Academics show their funny side at comedy club

11:16 29 October 2010

Comedian Robin Ince

Comedian Robin Ince


ACADEMICS are traditionally seen as a serious bunch – better known for their stuffy offices and corduroy-heavy wardrobes than their ability to make others laugh.

But boffins at a top north London university are shaking off the stereotype – by performing at a monthly comedy night in Islington.

Researchers at University College London (UCL), in Bloomsbury, have been moonlighting as stand-ups since May last year, and sharing the stage at Finsbury pub the Wilmington Arms, in Rosebery Avenue, with big-name professionals such as Richard Herring and Robin Ince.

Miriam Miller, director of comedy promoters One Green Firework, said: “We’ve proved that academics can be very funny. We honestly haven’t had anybody who has made a mess of it.

“It just goes to show they aren’t just sitting in their offices being staid and boring.”

The monthly event, Bright Club, is the brainchild of UCL’s head of public engagement Steve Cross, whose job involves finding new ways for the university’s academics to reach out to the public.

He said: “We still don’t know why it works. On paper the idea of paying £5 to see a bunch of people who have never performed before telling jokes about research shouldn’t work at all – but it does. We’ve put 65 people through it and no one died.

“Audience members like the fact that they can come and laugh – and then tell their mum they went.”

The researchers are given a few tips at a Bright Club training session before being thrown into the ring for five minutes each, while a professional comperes.

Last week they graduated to the big stage with a sold-out gig at the 500-seater Bloomsbury Theatre - a huge step up from a pub that has a capacity of about 80. Seven academics faced the daunting challenge of having to amuse an audience of hundreds at the one-off event.

Promoter Ms Miller, speaking beforehand, said: “We’ll ply them with beer beforehand and be very reassuring.”

Three top comics – Simon Munnery, Robin Ince and Steve Hall of sketch-troupe We Are Klang – provided back-up, to make sure the laughs kept on coming.

Joe Flatman, UCL archaeologist and Bright Club veteran, who performed again last week, said: “As an archaeologist I have driven jeeps through the Egyptian desert, dived down to shipwrecks, and persuaded armed officials to let me across borders – but none of those experiences were as intimidating as my first time at Bright Club.”

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