MICF: Further experimentation required

The title of Tim Lee’s show tells you pretty much what you need to know: Scientist Turned Comedian. Lee has a PhD (his website suggests in population dynamics) and he wants to share some scientific theories and how they impact on his life.

Tim Lee
Tim Lee

Balancing humour and science is an uncommon and, I suspect, very difficult task. An inquisitive audience would expect a decent quantum of science to pique their interest, but it’s not smart to restrict your audience by doing nerd comedy for a fairly small minority. Lee synthesises a compromise that is probably not all that satisfactory to those seriously interested in science, delivering a gentle form of humour. Through his PowerPoint presentation of different concepts from mathematics and scientific disciplines, Lee covers some topics probably too quickly for the uninitiated, and the conversant might wish for more depth.

Part of the problem is that the monologue tries to cover too many disciplines making it superficial on each of them. There are some decent gags, such as a comment that the strongest chemical bond is between soap and his housemate’s body hair, but this gives way in subsequent unrelated sections to a bifurcation diagram or a law of genetics, giving a very bitsy feel to the show overall. Having a qualification gives you authority in your discipline, not all disciplines, and this show would have benefitted from more focus, and hence more time to develop a theme.

Another issue, possibly a surprise to Dr Lee, is that some of his material doesn’t travel all that well beyond North America. I don’t think an audience interested in ideas would have much time for the shallow youngsters in Jersey Shore, or much knowledge of the show’s specifics as a result. A music video lampooning the support of Kirk Cameron (remember Mike Seaver in sickly 80s US sitcom Growing Pains?) for  “intelligent design” in a debate against Charles Darwin isn’t likely to interest many Australians; we don’t generally let the unqualified opinions of minor TV personalities we haven’t seen for twenty years influence our view of the world.

Positives for the show relate to Lee’s stage presence. He has a droll delivery and seemed to enjoy himself on stage. The act was polished and family friendly. The audience did get some good laughs at elements of the material, some of which were observations on Melbourne rather than science-based. All significant advances take time, and I hope Lee persists in refining his formula. If you’re not sure about this one, his YouTube clips will give a good idea of what you’ll get live.

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