When performing in a foreign territory for the first time, I always reckon it is best to start in 2600 seat theatre and ensure you have an astronaut with you. Well, that’s how I did Toronto anyway and it seemed to work. Last night was the first of Chris Hadfield’s Generators. What was Generator? It was woman called Star falling off a bicycle. It was a quadriplegic man called Mitchell walking on stage in a robotic exoskeleton. It was a planetary scientist called Marianne talking about education. It was poetry going into space and it was the Tupperware Remix Party dressing as superpowered beings while playing Tears for Fears. It was an excitement of ideas and a strange A-Ha singalong.
Evan Hadfield had come to Hammersmith with his dad when he guested in one of the Hammersmith Apollo Compendium of Reason shows that I put on with piano man and occasional particle physicist, Brian Cox. In Evan’s words he decided to steal it and put on a version in Canada. It wasn’t real thievery, we didn’t invent mishmashing science, bands and comedy and, anyway, want to see more of this sort of stuff around the world. That is why Brian and I will be going back to do another USA tour next year (but more of that another time).
I was delighted to be asked to come over and MC the show, almost like a hand over, but now my hand has got near the Generator, I hope I can keep it in it. It was a delight to be part of it.
With the exception of some Monkey Cage recordings, I hadn’t done any science-y sort of gigs for about a month. As I like to dabble in many preposterousnesses (not a word, I know that), my mind files away ideas in a cargo haul that can make things difficult to access again. Sometimes the splintered box containing “Bad jokes I performed in 1993 about Robert Maxwell, Sharks and Fox Hunting” obscures the box I need containing “physics jokes from 2014”. Also, when in another country, I have to be a little more methodical than my usual haphazardry (another not word, but I demand it is now), as you can find yourself two minutes into an elaborate routine and, seconds before reaching punchline, a homunculus pops up and says, “you do remember that this punchline relies on a cultural reference that doesn’t travel across water?”.
This heightens nervousness as for at least the first few minutes of performance, your improvisation can be hindered by reminders of “you’re not from around here, things may be different, beware ineptitude creating fury and derision”.
I scribbled nine ideas down in a notebook and thought over what they needed to work while eating celery sticks near a box of Ritz Crackers. As it turned out, I only needed three of the ideas and could soon comfortably dabble and dick around.
The Canadians were friendly to the interloper.
I hope the evening was as fascinating to the audience as it was to me. A highlight was Destin Standlin’s re-engineered bicycle – a bicycle that steers in the opposite direction to the one you turn the handlebars towards. The brain will not let you ride it. The night before, we all tried it round the back of Chris Hadfield’s house after some Canadian Beer. Each person straddled the bicycle, certain they would be the one to grasp riding it, each person fell off with a metre or so. Even an astronaut cannot conquer their brain’s refusal to allow them to be so dangerously counter-instinctual. This is Destin explaining it all.
The bionic body chassis was an astounding feat of engineering that will change lives and, as luck would have it, while Mitchell Brogan was demonstrating it on stage, he was also on CBC’s Dragon’s Den doing a financial deal to develop this even further.
Marshall Jones demonstrated why his poetry is worthy of being sent into space, Canadian comedian Mark Little did a brilliant “TED talk” on stand up comedy before demonstrating an energetic rap folly (intentional) and the Templeton Philharmonic confused the real sound people with their demo on home made radio effects. Oh, and Chris Hadfield talked about astronaut stuff of course, before singing with the band and falling off a bicycle.
Tupperware Remix Party were a superband that also included Ninja Sex Party.
There was much more than this (look up the work of Jer Thorp on making data more human and Marianne Mader on making education alluring). The audience were gleeful, hopefully inspired, and we were left confused when we all had to take part in a finale that involved standing in stage attempting to remember the words of Take on Me, which was being played masterfully by the band. Suddenly, the nerds who had been emperors with powerpoints and words were forced to attempt to clap along in time while being watched by 2600 people. Oh how we fell.
and how good was it all in all, my seven year old son watched the whole three hours from the front row and is now quoting what he saw.
Brian Cox and I will be putting on two more nights at Hammersmith Apollo this December – tickets here
The Dead Funny sequel has been postponed until next year, but I will be still presenting a horror double bill with Reece Shearsmith on 6th November at the Phoenix in Finchley, appearing at the GoFasterStripe Festival on 7th November with Simon Munnery and more, and the first ever live Vitriola shows will be this December