The brief for the comics *was* a hard one: tell us some jokes about science; poke fun at religion, but DON'T be rude; be funny and only Dara O Briain really managed it, although respect to Josie Long who bravely snuck an anti Dawkins joke into an otherwise clumsy routine ("If this doesn't work I don't want any of you blogging about it, OK?" Oops.)
Q: What do you call themed comedy that is actually funny?
The unexpected fall guy for the evening was Johnny Ball, erstwhile star of 1970s kids' TV and father of Zoë. He died on his backside out there with "get off!" lights flashing in his eyes, hisses of "Stop" clearly audible from the wings, and slow hand-claps, whistles and boos from a riled audience.
His unforgivable crime? An agonisingly childish routine with arrows drawn on a piece of cardboard "Now it points left, but now it points right - oh no! Left again, and now its pointing up!" A trick with which I have delighted four year olds at three different birthday parties. For that he would have deserved 'the treatment' but no, the audience sat dutifully silent, no doubt lost in the mist of nostalgia.
What did trigger the audience's protest - eventually - was a sustained AGW-denial riff, that started with a childish song, followed by a ten minute rant descending to a incoherent ramble. Doubting that the tiny proportions of CO2 in the atmosphere can cause global warming at all, and doubting still more that the tiny amount of CO2 from man-made emissions makes any difference Ball was on dangerous territory: the audience had signed up for an attack on the old religions, not the new one and feet shuffled, and people murmured.
Mrs Botogol fell asleep.
The crunch came when Johnny rather clumsily invoked the discredited CRU scientists at UEA to his cause. A cry of "shame" from the audience broke the dam, the boos started and a perplexed and shaken-looking Ball was finally forced from the stage.
"We weren't telling him to get to get off because of what he was saying", reassured the hapless Ince when he finally regained control of the stage, but because he went 13 minutes over his time"
Yeah, Robin, that might have been why *you* were booing.
Ball lost his skirmish last night - but significantly he was heard out for a full 12 minutes before a counter-attack came. Since the UEA fiasco broke two weeks ago the climate of the debate at least has changed, AGW deniers have gained much heart, and they are on the front foot now.
I think that in the months to come we're going to see more and more dissent like Ball's brave, but misguided, speech last night.