16 December 2009

a change of climate

9 Lessons and Carols for the Godless, Robin Ince's annual atheistic shindig at the Bloomsbury Theatre, demonstrated last night (just in case there is any lingering any doubt about the matter) that themed comedy doesn't really work.

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?
A: Comedy

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.


Botogol said...

Updates - people have tweeted asking was he actually booed off?

I would say yes he was
- he didn't finish what he was saying he subsided (looking a bit hurt)
- then Ince came back on and Johnny left the stage.

OK, so by the time JB actually walked off the boos had stopped - the crowd were not a mob, but gentle lot who were warm to him at the start, out for a good evening so once Johnny shut up they quietened down straight away. They definitely forced him off though.

Mind you he was rambling and had been on stage for 20 mins (allocated 7). It was the boredom as much as the heresy that many people obected to.

Ince should have got him off the stage much earlier. A more experienced/capable MC would have organised quick tune from the band, while cutting JB's mic, and coming on stage leading a round of applause. Still, you live and learn.

Jonathan said...

It's not the first time Ball has done this, incidentally. I was at the Imperial Science Communication MSc graduation event a few years ago, and as the guest of honour he did what sounds like the same routine, to gasps of astonishment and nervous laughter from the assembled.

I gather he did something similar at the launch of the Newcastle SETpoint, too.

What frustrated me - apart from seeing a childhood hero undermine himself so thoroughly - wasn't so much his rant against AGW theories as his terribly flawed argument. He's entitled to his opinion, but foisting awful logic on others is exactly what he's known for not doing. Tragic.

Botogol said...

I am quoted in the Telegraph :-)

If you are arriving here from the Telegraph.... oh, no, you won't be, they didn't actually give a link... or a name check :-(

M4GD said...

Sad story re the booing! Why why why…? Why can’t we respect the differences in opinions? Do we have to all think the same? Look the same? Say the same?
Anyways, it seems that you witnessed history last Tuesday. Sorry, that you had to see your childhood hero stumbles. Think Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Journey. Sometimes we have to fall before we can fly again or it is best to tear it down and rebuild totally anew!

On another note, I thought the following three burning questions and answers to be funny! Luckily, I will neither see nor hear your booing re my comment unless you respond back with the words ‘boo’ or ‘hiss’ ;-)


TGIF from M4GD

M4GD said...

The Hanson course sounds absolutely fascinating. May be he can do one online? Economics has a lot to do with many areas of law for example Game Theory clearly explains the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Also, I was very impressed by how Levitt and Dubner used Economics theory to highlight the impact of the decision in Roe v Wade 1973 (the US case that legalized abortion) on reducing the rate of crime in the US in the 1990s!
But can Economics Theory help find ‘Peace on earth’?
For now Peace from M4GD