Dara O Briain Meets Professor Stephen Hawking, TV review: Meeting of minds shows master of the universe has the human touch

O Briain asked good questions and Professor Hawking gave even better answers

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The Independent Culture

Besides being a stand-up comedian and regular TV show panellist, Dara O Briain is something of a science nerd. He studied mathematics and theoretical physics at University College Dublin and on his 16th birthday asked for, and received, the bestselling pop science book of the year, A Brief History of Time by Professor Stephen Hawking.

So who better to attempt this profile of "the man behind the bright lights and the equations" in Dara O Briain Meets Professor Stephen Hawking? Well, maybe Professor Brian Cox or Stephen Fry? But apparently neither were available.

O Briain asked good questions and Professor Hawking gave even better answers. On his feelings about Eddie Redmayne's Oscar-winning performance in the film about his life, The Theory of Everything, Hawking said, "It is perhaps the closest I will come to time travel." On being the longest-living person with motor neurone disease or ALS he surmised, "I think my survival against the odds must have something to do with my commitment to science. I'm damned if I'm going to die before I unravel more about the universe." O Briain suggested he have that last part put on a T-shirt.

More revealing, however, were those awkward moments when conversation didn't quite flow. O Briain's first challenge was simply to catch a moment alone with a man whose frantic schedule includes movie premieres, guest appearances in The Simpsons, meetings with the likes of Nelson Mandela and, of course, ongoing work on theoretical physics at Cambridge University. When they did talk, there was the rhythm of conversation as dictated by computer program to get used to.

But all these delays and distractions were effective at building up a picture of Hawking, a man whose superhuman determination to achieve can sometimes obscure his ordinary humanity. Hawking showed his impish side by gifting O Briain with a physics joke to remember him by: "What is a black hole? Something you get in a black sock." The 16-year-old science nerd would have loved that one.

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