Where can you witness a comic explanation of the global recession, an anthropological history of the selfie and an action-packed speculation of how the word ‘sirloin’ originated? Bright Club, that’s where. The 'thinking person's comedy night' puts academics on stage to present material based on their scholarly research. Researchers, graduate students and lecturers from fields as diffuse as cognitive neuroscience, art history and economics share the bill with the UK’s leading comedians, making for a blend of laughs and learning.
Bright Club started in 2009 when UCL's public engagement team decided to put academics with interesting stories to tell on stage for an audience of 20 to 50- year-olds with no experience in academia. The educators involved are trained in performance skills by experts in stand-up prior to the gig, while experienced comics serve as MCs and headliners on the night. There are now Bright Clubs in 14 university towns and cities across the country and the event has even made its way to several festivals around the world.
For a first-hand insight into what it’s like to take part, we spoke to Bright Club veteran Nick Neasom, PhD candidate in linguistics at UCL. Nick has performed at several instalments in London as well as at Bright Club bills at Edinburgh Fringe, Green Man Festival and University of Oxford’s Oxford Talks.
How did you get involved in Bright Club?
My secondary supervisor had previously performed and told me how much fun it was. When the organisers asked him to perform again, he wasn't around, so he suggested that I have a go. They also encourage people to put themselves up for it: you can just drop them an email. Bear in mind you have to be a grad student or researcher at UCL to perform!
How did you develop your material?
Walking around Tooting talking to myself, then walking around my flat recording myself talking to myself, and then writing down the best parts to make the first draft of a script. Some people go into quite a lot of detail about their own specific research, but the phonology I do is pretty niche, so I just decided to give an overview of the kinds of things linguists like me get up to.
Nick performing at Bright Club. Photo by UCL News
How did you prepare to perform live?
More endless repetition. What I was most scared of was forgetting what I was going to say, so this was really important. It was also very useful to perform in front of one or two close friends, close enough that they would tell me if what I was saying was horribly unfunny. You usually get a rehearsal with your fellow Bright Clubbers a day or two before as well, which is really helpful. I got some great advice from the rehearsal, particularly with things I hadn't thought about, like microphone technique.
How did the first performance go?
Incredibly exciting, but also terrifying. I was on last, so I had a lot of time to get good and nervous. The performance itself was a complete blur and I was totally unaware of how much time had passed. I remember the audience being very kind, which I think is one of the best things about Bright Club. The atmosphere is really supportive. The feeling afterwards was amazing, a real adrenaline rush.
What about the subsequent shows? Did it get any easier?
In a way subsequent shows were easier, although I was surprised at how much it varied. I had a difficult time when I was performing in Edinburgh and completely forgot what I was saying. The gig was in a tent in the middle of the day, so it was very easy to see the pity on everyone's face in the audience! In general, though, there was less of a fear of the unknown.
Would you ever perform stand-up at an out-and-out comedy show?
I think the atmosphere would be very different. At Bright Club, there's an understanding that most of the performers are not professional comedians, so there's not much in the way of heckling, for example. That said, performing at Bright Club has definitely given me the desire to do more comedy.