I am at the airport, waiting for Professor Brian Cox. He won’t be here for another two hours.
This is one of the differences between us. He moves through life like the Cadbury’s Caramel bunny, I rear up in terror at life like Joe Pesci.
I am the sort of person who apologises when someone clumsily bumps into me, no one bumps into the Professor as he passes through them like neutrinos.
I sit behind a collection of JG Ballard essays picking crisps from my dental braces as he wafts from West London, somewhere between the Jason King of particle accelerators and the Jerry Cornelius of Jodrell Bank. And sometimes he’s just a bit of a muppet as you’ll see here.
Brian and I have been working together for nearly a decade now. Much of this is thanks to a disastrous Edinburgh fringe show in 2005 that combined being burdened with a botched idea and a sewage explosion at my basement flat in London. It was a turning point in my thoughts of what I should do with stand up and led to me creating a hotch potch of ludicrous nights that combined variety, accordions and epidemiologists. Eventually, this led to The Infinite Monkey Cage. (an important note – the Monkey Cage is a trio not a duo, as our producer Sash is integral to the show)
Though so much of my life has been in the solitary pursuit of stand up comedy, now I find myself in a trio of double acts. With Michael Legge, I make the vitriola music podcast and perform Pointless Anger Righteous Ire, this is the closest to me allowing the full id out. The live shows have been some of our most full on lunatic outings. It is like Dog Day Afternoon if a drunk Three Stooges were in charge of the bank siege. I have toured as a double act with Josie Long as well as making the podcast Utter Shambles, and now Book Shambles.
And with Brian I have toured shows in the UK and the US and we make 13 Monkey Cages a year for radio and podcast. What knits them all is that they are not really double acts at all, we are relaxed enough with each other to just talk, sometimes across each others, sometimes clumsily, but never with the rehearsed banter that will promote us to the pier, though I see no reason why Brian and I shouldn’t be the broker’s men, with the Professor explaining how the notion of being “behind you” must take into account the frame of reference. And Michael and I really could make the ugliest of sisters.
Brian and I are blessed with the necessary differences for the traditional double act. He is tall, smiling and pretty with Stepford skin, I am short and bald and easy to provoke towards grouchiness. Brian has a deep understanding of the universe from a sub-atomic particle level, my inability to grasp deep and grand ideas means that I dance from idea to idea, never concentrating but lining my nest with shiny trinkets of information from physics, philosophy and Oxfam shelves.
What unites us is a sense of humour, possibly a sense of the ridiculous, and a staunch desire to persuade people that rigorously used evidence based thinking could really be the best way to “preserve and cherish this pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known”. We also have a habit of quoting Carl Sagan.
For the next year, I am juggling the social freneticism of big gigs with Brian across Australia and the UK, with a hermit-like existence of writing two books in my quiet and book-lined attic room.
To see science communication in this scale is fascinating and pleasing to me. Was it luck, Jungian synchronicity or a rising culture of science enthusiasts that converged to turn these things from subterranean events in 2006, to arena tours in 2016. Wasn’t I fortunate to have a basement flat flood with shit? Imagine how rubbish my life might be if everything had been nice that Summer.
We also made this ridiculous, fun and educational (probably) kids science puppet thing