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Festival of the Spoken Nerd

Helen Arney, Steve Mould and Matt Parker by photographer Idil Sukan

By Chris Postle

Festival of the Spoken Nerd is a popular comedy variety night that aims to satisfy scientific curiosity. It presents serious mathematics in a way that is accessible to scientists and non-scientists alike: familiar territory for those who love to spend their evenings discussing science over a pint down the pub (you know you’re out there!).

The three scientists-turned comedians that run the sell-out event boast impressive credentials, Matt Parker is a well-known stand-up mathematician, Helen Arney has been dubbed “Britain’s foremost musical female physicist”, and physicist Steve Mould leads a double life as the science expert for Blue Peter.

Each show has a novel theme and for Brighton Science Festival it was, “Are you Pi-curious?”. The evening took place at the atmospheric Blind Tiger Club, and consisted of a series of wonderful and diverse skits.

Parker opened up with a comical attempt to set the unofficial world record for solving a Rubik’s cube while reciting Rubik’s cube world records. His excellent delivery and remarkable multi-tasking skills transformed this simple skit into a truly hilarious piece.

Following Parker was Arney, and her electric ukulele, singing a love song intended to woo mathematicians. If pun-based humour is your thing, Arney certainly has it covered. She later returned to the stage to perform a piece about staggering numbers encountered in maths; note that this song required full audience participation!

Mould was introduced on stage as “the man who makes the technology work”. His segments of the show were mostly ‘here’s one I made earlier’ skits, a style akin to Blue Peter. For example, Mould showed the audience various solids of constant width: bizarre shapes that could functionally replace the ordinary circular wheel.

Between them, Parker, Arney and Mould kept the crowd entertained for the better part of two hours. They even dragged several members of the audience up on stage to expose the probability behind Russian roulette with a plate of marshmallows and anti-biting nail polish solution. The unexpected result of Mould picking a loaded marshmallow was well worth waiting for!

In the final skit, Parker and Mould teamed up for a hysterical comedic debate about which scientific constant is better: pi or the lesser-known tau.

All in all, Festival of the Spoken Nerd was an evening very well spent. It was refreshing to see a science-themed show that was simple and witty. With regular shows in London and the promise of a return to Brighton for the comedy festival in October, there will be plenty of chances to see them in action this year. I cannot recommend them enough.

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