Festival of the Spoken Nerd

Wed 5th – Sun 30th August 2015


Caspar Jacobs

at 10:15 on 21st Aug 2015



Just for Graphs is the new show by the science comedy group Festival of the Spoken Nerd. As the title indicates, the main topic this time is graphs, although later we are told that a lot of them are actually diagrams, plots and charts. This apparently boring material is surprisingly used for some great jokes, which adds up to a show that is entertaining throughout. However, Just for Graphs was, bar one or two highlights, never amazing, and some of the jokes were faint or obvious.

Confession: I love physics. This might of course alter my perception of Festival of the Spoken Nerd, but that fact weirdly that doesn't work in their favour. What disappointed me was that they tried to make science exciting and spectacular with things such as experiments that are literally on fire - but that's not really making science interesting, it's just getting rid of the parts that are considered boring and replacing them with fire or songs.

Although I understand that the show has to be suitable for a varied audience, it would have been a lot more impressive if they could have given us some of the real science, whilst remaining interesting and funny. Science is not magic. They shouldn't present it like it is because the exact beauty of science is that it is explaining what is supposedly 'magic'.

Another small thing that perhaps annoyed me more than the average audience member was the perpetuation of stereotypes about nerds. Again, science can be fun on its own, without making fun of scientists, right?

Having said that, I should mention that I was amused for the full hour of the show. Helen Arney's take on Wicked (“Defining gravity”) was very well done and Matt Parker's graph that plots everything is still puzzling me. Steve Mould plotting the contractions of his pregnant wife was adorable and also connects science to the 'real world', instead of mere stage trickery.

Festival of the Spoken Nerd was an entertaining hour that makes the science-fan smile because, well, it's always nice to talk about science. Additionally, for non-scientists, I'm sure it is still enjoyable, given the response of the audience. Sometimes the experiments were too reminiscent of high school open day presentations, but the comedians are doing a hard job trying to make science funny and most of the time they did that with success.


Fergus Morgan

at 14:05 on 21st Aug 2015



Festival of the Spoken Nerd are a trio of comedians with a particular propensity for all things scientific and mathematical and they profess to provide a cure for the ‘insatiably sci-curious’. Steve Bould, Matt Parker, and Helen Arney are engaging performers with a likeable self-effacing style and an endearing enthusiasm for their subject matter.

Their new show, Just For Graphs, is a celebration of the infinite variety of charts, plots and diagrams, from the classic Venn diagrams familiar to – and probably hated by – anyone with a Maths GCSE, to much more advanced examples, some of which genuinely astound in their complexity.

The three comedians each have their speciality. Bould is a self-confessed pyromaniac, Parke a lovably geeky Maths teacher, and Arney a musically gifted scientist (who has worked at CERN – as an after-dinner comedian). The trio take it in turns to present short five-minute segments, helping each other out and undermining each other with quick-witted insults in equal measure.

These segments are entertaining, but never awe-inspiringly so. Parker’s rapid calculations are impressive but his method is never satisfactorily explained; Arney’s tuneful interludes are enjoyable – ‘Deriving Gravity’, a parody of Wicked’s ‘Defying Gravity’ is particularly memorable – but they aren’t showstoppers; and Bould’s explanation of standing waves in tubes, quite literally illuminated by fire, is crowd-pleasing but a little underwhelming.

In truth, there is little real spectacle in Just For Graphs. Festival of the Spoken Nerd are slick, colourful performers, but they are a little too obviously rehearsed and although their experiments are interesting, they are nothing you couldn’t see at a high-school open day. The show lacks a wow factor.

Some moments are arresting for different reasons. Bould’s description of the birth of his child, and the calculations he made to predict the exact moment he became a proud father, cannot fail to bring a smile to the face; Bould’s shy, but secretly proud grin is charming. And a graph Parker presents that can plot any shape in the world is an intriguing introduction – one over which a certain Oxford physicist is still puzzling.

Festival of the Spoken Nerd’s Just For Graphs is moderately fun mid-afternoon entertainment, presented by some likeably nerdy comedians and featuring some fairly cool sciencey stuff. If you are sci-curious, it is an enjoyable hour.


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