Writer: Helen Arney, Steve Mould, Matt Parker
Reviewer: Laura Orton
Festival of the Spoken Nerd (or FOTSN for the geeks) are back with their latest comedy lecture, Full Frontal Nerdity. Gaining a mass of popularity in recent years, this ‘hip to be square’, ‘science is chic’ (queue Dara O’Briain’s school of hard sums or QI) style of performance really is the new kid on the comedy block.
FOTSN consists of 3 clever clogs, all with their own areas of expertise you wouldn’t typically see in comedy.Helen Arney is a physicist by education but her geek qualification is being able to play the electric ukulele.Steve Mould is another physicist cited in a published scientific paper. Hobbies include burning things and pouring beads out of a jar andMatt Parker is a mathematician stand up with a passion for spreadsheets and binary code.
Before the guys had even walked on stage, the show starts with a laugh as the puns begin on the big screen with a pre-show presentation in the style of an aeroplane take off safety announcement. This really sets the tone for the delights in store for the audience.Once thats done, the three are on stage and start brimming with energy. Mould’s first party trick is a fire tornado. The on stage stunts then continue throughout the show with giant smoke rings, strange strings of beads, optical illusions and proof that EVERYTHING we see is made up of spreadsheets.
The three comics are on stage together the whole way through this performance, but they do take it in turns to complete their own solo sections while the other two take a back seat, only joining in to heckle their friends occasionally and to make use of props in the background. The down side of this visible segmentation of the show means that it doesn’t quite fit together as one whole, but instead chapters that don’t necessarily flow together. The main culprit of this is Arney and her electrical ukulele. She plays a few silly songs about science jokes. These don’t feel like they fit into this show at all. She doesn’t actually DO science, unlike the other two.
With fun heckles from the mathematician Parker, Mould explains how magenta is not on the colour spectrum and how physics proves it is actually just ‘minus green’. With as much passion as physically possible, he manages to explain this science easily enough so anyone who is not a science geek would understand, but fun enough so fellow clever clogs are still engrossed in what he is saying. Its difficult for the audience to take their eyes off him as he goes through his different explanations.
Parker is similar to Mould in terms of his passion and his enthusiasm but for rival subject mathematics.Out of the three, he is perhaps the one who confuses the audience the most with technical and difficult maths. However, the audience easily forgive this, as it really doesn’t matter that you don’t understand his equations. If anything, this is part of the joke and you will happily laugh along at the complexity of his joy. His excitement leads to the biggest stunt of the night involving giant smoke rings bellowing out above the audiences heads – a real crowd pleaser.
One criticism would be that there lacks any thematic dialogue running through from start to end other than ‘we are all nerds’. It would be nicer if there was a common subject that they were all attacking from their own different angles, instead of the somewhat random choices of topic. The main offender of this was Arney’s songs, which come out of nowhere. Without Arney, maybe the piece as a whole would just have that little bit more cohesion and Mould and Parker would have a more polished and moulded (excuse the pun) overall product. She feels like a third wheel just there to laugh at the other two.
At times, the three come across as a tad too scripted and less natural than is ideal for this form of performance. Laughter at each other feels a bit forced and its obvious they have heard the same jokes from each other night after night. However, after the interval their natural humour and banter with each other glimmers through when they read out new tweets they have received during the break. It is at this moment that you know that comedy and nerdity can truly mix and Festival of the Spoken Nerd is an equation for success.
Festival of the Spoken Nerd is a beautifully timed show including a pie-graph measured interval, where Arney, Mould and Parker ooze full frontal nerdity from start to end.
Photo: Idil Sukan/Draw HQ
Reviewed on 13th February 2014