Comedy: The science of stand-up

Laughter is a learning tool for the Dana Centre's punk scientists
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The Independent Culture
HOW DO you make physics funny? Through a series of comedy nights at the Science Museum's Dana Centre, that's how. The Punk Science team have been giving serious science lectures under the guise of stand-up comedy ever since the Dana Centre opened its doors in 2003. Previous performances have included Gluttony and Energy. Now, the team are tackling Einstein's theories on Brownian Motion, the Photoelectric Effect, and the Special and General Theories of Relativity - all explained in 45 minutes of video, music, slide shows, interactive voting, sketches and experiments.

Punk Science comprises Jonathan Milton, Bradford Gross, Ben Samuels, and Dan Hope, all of whom worked as "explainers" for children in the interactive museum's galleries. The fifth member, Kat Nilsson, worked in the museum's news section before the five were given the task of researching, writing and performing comedy shows for the museum.

"It is an unusual job," says Milton, who played a white boy rapper singing about solar power in Energy. "The concept was to explain science in a comic way, because it's often seen as highbrow and inaccessible. You won't be able to pass an exam after seeing our show, but we will tell you exactly what E=MC2 means.

"We try and hack Einstein's theories down to their basic form," he continues, "but there is a lot that we have to filter out. The Special Theory of Relativity is expressed in one sentence: moving things are squashed and their time slows down relative to someone watching them." The Punk Science team use a skateboard to show how time slows down the closer you move to the speed of light.

"We research specific parts and get the science right, before adding the jokes," says Milton, who wrote sections on the Photo- electric Effect and Brownian Motion. Despite the levity, they prefer not to dress up, although they wear costumes in a few sketches. "We strongly believe we shouldn't wear lab coats with crazy hair and funny glasses," says Milton. "We are trying to break stereotypes."

The show will explore Einstein the icon, asking why he never quite lived up to his early work, and also looks at Einstein the man. "You get this cuddly image of him, but I was shocked when I read a memo he sent to his wife, Mileva," says Milton - who reads the memo aloud to the audience before taking a look at Einstein's relationship problems.

"The memo says: `You will see to it that my clothes and laundry are kept in good order. I will be served three meals regularly in my room. My bedroom and study are kept tidy and especially that my desk be left for my use only. You will relinquish all personal relations with me in so far as that they are not completely necessary for social reasons, particularly you will forgo my staying at home with you, going out or travelling with you. You will obey the following points in your relations with me; you will not expect any tenderness from me, nor will you offer any suggestions to me; you will stop talking to me about something if I request it.'"

Punk Science is at The Dana Cantre, the Science Museum, London, SW7 (020-7942 4040; tomorrow, 7.30pm