A major problem with science in the public realm: It comes off too dry, long-winded – it plainly turns people off. The wonders of science, methods, results, perspectives are neither being understood nor appreciated. Even worse: The public money which is being spent on the funding of research finds no way of being assessed by the citizens and taxpayers.
Not that we have a lack of popular science. Since the 1980’s media has made giant steps to make science comprehensible and visible. Beginning with journalism, there was a hype of popular science media, meanwhile, scientists and communicators have learned to present research less nerdy, more at ease and entertaining.
However, we have observed in the past couple of years that the presentation of science is taking a new tack, namely to apply wit, fun, make people laugh. This is important because humans learn much better in joyful environments. They also ignite creativity.
This is what we dwell on in this format. But who says that a science cabaret is just about comedy? If we measure it with the standards of political cabaret it should also apply satire and parody. After all, science, research and technology are conducted by men and women, who commit mistakes, are driven by egos, exert a lot of power which at times is very poorly controlled by the checks and balances in a democratic society.
What’s valid for politicians must also be valid for scientists: They also work by, for and with the people. So jokes about their performance may be allowed and thus become a vehicle of discourse and democratic exchange.
So here it comes, a broad-based roll-out of clowning, comedy, cabaret—with a spice of satire.
This instrument is made to become part of the toolkit of interactive and participative platforms and moderation techniques. In this box, it joins science slams which have been around for a decade or so. They are entertaining, make people laugh, however, their focus is rather narrow: talk shop or better lab in a loose-type of the atmosphere. Thus, science slams very little to reach societal mainstream. They remain too close to science and miss to reach a critical distance, not to speak about a critical mass. So, the main objective of the introduced method is to enhance this very well established and successful format of science communication and conquer new audiences, add more spice and flavour. Clowning, Comedy, Cabaret in very simple terms boils down to exchanges between a serious white clown and a silly red clown who asks dumb questions.
General Structure: Single Event
It’s mostly a single event, what we propose here, which means a one-shot evening performance, on stage, on-campus or in a theatre, even out in the open in the public sphere such as on a market square. The bandwidth is considerable: from a series of sketches of just a few minutes to a full-blown 90 minutes play. And, of course, nothing stands against to make a series out of this, with training sessions, hands-on workshops, talent shows and the whole works.
Main Event Duration: A few hours / Full day / Several days or more
Let’s opt to begin with a Main Event Duration: With moderation between 90 minutes and 120 minutes, if necessary longer – let’s be flexible.
If we want to train students and researchers and get them ready for a public performance it might take days of preparation, depending on time availability, perhaps even weeks. With lay actors, impro performers, talented folks we’ll progress much faster, within several days, but with less teaching effect in the scientific community. However, a demonstration might get it aroused and started.
2.1 Staff & Volunteers
Requires volunteer recruitment / Core organising team only
Staff and volunteers are nice to have, however are not urgently needed for a specific event. Try to pull it off with your own means—which means: less overhead and administrative costs!
A humour session can be organised by a few persons, whether they are volunteers or a team. However, you need to fall back on participants who pitch in with funny ideas and sketches. You may rely as science slams do on talented students and academicians and you must recruit them, personally or by social media. Where do you find stuff for comedy, narratives, jokes? Everywhere, just open your eyes. For example, nobody would assume that the “Deutsches Museum”/Munich is funny, the world’s largest museum of natural sciences and technology, founded in 1903 when Germany was ruled by kings and emperors. Architecture-wise it’s a rather intimidating place. But you’re in for surprises. When you enter the astronomy department, for example, you find the history of the detection of the first neutron star. The scientists demonstrated humour and baptized it LGM-1, Little Green Man. What followed is black humour. Not the woman who detected the star received the Nobel prize, but her professor. Science is full of gender satire. Just one example, if you want to vary the subject, read Einstein. His writings are full of humour and also self-irony, the essential ingredients of funny stuff. He is an inspiring training ground.
2.2 Venue Hire
Venue: Indoors, also outdoors (i.e. like ESOF Science in the City)
Capacity: >10 (seminars), <1000 (conferences)
Sessions may be hosted indoors and outdoors. Humour sessions will energize and loosen up seminars as well as conferences. They break up rigid communication architectures which especially in non-Anglo countries are still very common and which limit the intellectual gains of participants – according to the iron rule: Relaxed atmosphere and jokes make you learn and remember better.
2.3 Partner Institutions
Partner Institutions: Not required, but they do help
A humour session, as stated, may be part of a major conference or symposium, but it can also be run independently and serve smaller events. Since humour is difficult to begin with, even more difficult in science, research and technology environments, where it has not much of a tradition, organizers might want to team up with partners and coaches. Right off hand, two can be recommended. Vince Ebert, one of the inventors of science cabaret in Germany with highly successful shows, also in English. And the Spanish group Big Van, an ensemble of some 20 scientists, who regularly rock events and audiences of various kinds around the world. They are regular guests at the PCST conferences, also cooperate with UNESCO in an attempt to introduce humour to schools and to the STEM subjects.
Yearly / Project Budget: 2000 – 8000€
Budget and costs depend on the size and context of the session, whether it’s part of a conference or stand-alone activities, whether organizers draw up an own concept or receive coaching by professionals in the field. Money must be raised with educational institutions, research bodies, foundations with a suitable profile. The target for fundraising efforts should be organizers of conferences in the realm of science, research, technology. A science cabaret certainly would be welcomed as an attractive addition to the program. Eckart von Hirschhausen, the German medical doctor and inventor of the “Medical Cabaret”, was at DGPPN 2016 (German Psychiatry Congress) one of the main attractors.
|Budget Point||Details||Event Cost|
|Personnel Fees||Voluntary work is for free, but professional coaching & training needs to be invoiced||1500-2000€|
|Venue Hire||This could be part of a major conference with scientists or journalists or run independently||0–2000€|
|Marketing||Design / printing of posters or buying advertising space in local papers / on social media||500–2000€|