Why and how did you start to do scientific comedy?
I trained as an actor at a clown/mime/physical theatre school in Paris. So the comedy thing is what I do. When I eventually got round to writing my first solo show, it had to be about my all-time hero Charles Darwin. And after doing one scientist, people expect you to do more scientists! And you may as well give the people what they want!
The most important thing is to put on a good show, whether it’s funny or just…good. The audience are there to see a show, not to learn, so giving them a show they enjoy is my number one priority. The second most important thing is to get the science absolutely right.
I am neither. Or both…
I am a scientist in the sense that everyone is a scientist, in that everyone – even babies – uses the scientific method to explore the world and refine their view of it. I am also a scientist in the sense that I believe in science, and will fight its corner in the face of superstition and pseudoscience. But I’m not actually a scientist.
I am a comedian in the French sense – I am un comédien, an actor. And I guess I’m a comedian in the sense that people sometimes laugh at some of the things I do on stage. But I’m not actually a comedian.
Freelance artistic creation does not leave very much time for hobbies. Sometimes I write songs that have nothing to do with science. Sometimes I read books about science that has nothing to do with a show I’m making. But yes, you’re right – the only reason I would possibly do what I do is because I enjoy it – it’s certainly not for the financial reward.
Absolutely. One hundred percent. And not necessarily in the sense of telling jokes. In order to communicate complex science, you can go a long way by just being light-hearted and not taking yourself too seriously.
Other people do it in brilliant ways – they write popular science books, run podcasts, tweet… I write shows and songs about science because writing shows and songs is what I do, and I happen to really really like science, so they tend to be about that. The question really is, might I one day write shows and songs about something other than science? And the answer is…maybe…but I’m happy for the moment.
You can make anything funny. It’s not the field of science itself which is funny, it’s the way you tell it.