10 Dec 2016

Robin Ince: 'Part of my job is to say, look, I’m an idiot'

From Saturday Morning, 10:08 am on 10 December 2016
Robin Ince

Robin Ince Photo: Supplied

Kim Hill meets the man many say created the sub-genre of ‘science nerd comedy’ – comedian and co-host of the podcast series The Infinite Monkey Cage, Robin Ince.

Ince started doing stand-up comedy in his early 20s, then in his early 30s started mixing it with scientific ideas onstage.

He says he loves learning and is not afraid to show it.

“Part of my job is to say, look, I’m an idiot. I don’t know very much, but I’m interested in a lot of things.

“I know that I’ll be getting an inkling, a tiny smidgin of understanding, if I can start to turn some of these things into jokes.”

Next year, Ince comes to New Zealand with a show called Cosmic Shambles LIVE.

“I thought, why don’t I put together a show where there’s comics and scientists and they talk not about the things that they take the mickey out of, but things they’re really passionate about?”

The first Cosmic Shambles LIVE show featured a performance by musician Jarvis Cocker followed by scientist Richard Dawkins talking about the evolution of the spider’s web, he says.

“People get a little bit of science… Just when they think ‘This equation is starting to make my head hurt’, suddenly a troupe of 16 dancers come out and do something quite remarkable.”

Many of us start shying away from science in childhood, he says.

With the education system so results-focused, science teachers often don’t have time for “the anecdote, the journey, the human story”.

“[Children] don’t get that bit which humanises [science], which stops it from being just a collection of ideas.”

Then later, there’s the shame thing.

“We’re so worried about saying something foolish that we just stay silent, and therefore remain ignorant.”

“Every scientist that I’ve worked with, they don’t care how basic a question is or how possibly naïve a question is, because all of those questions show that that individual has an interest, they are interested in the world.

“What a pity if you don’t sometimes spend your nights lying on the grass looking up at the stars above you and thinking ‘I want to know a few more things about our place in the universe’.”

Cosmic Shambles LIVE comes to Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch in April 2017.