Sunday, April 07, 2013

Geek love - review of Matt Parker

Matt Parker: The Number Ninja, at New Greenham Arts, Greenham on Saturday, March 9

IT is the sign of the high level of nerdiness and geekery that my plus-one for mathematician Matt Parker’s first solo stand up comedy/maths show wore a “Klein bottle” hat, knitted from a pattern created by Parker’s mum to his specifications. For those who need a reminder, the Klein bottle is a non-orientable two-dimensional manifold; like a Mobius strip without surface boundaries. And it makes a surprisingly wearable hat.

Parker is a former maths teacher and current academic who led the way with the whole science + laughter = massive fun formula when he combined his day job with his evening semi-pro career in stand-up comedy. Although his live shows, and appearances on Radio 4’s Infinite Monkey Cage do appeal to self-styled nerds whose brains are very nearly too enormous to be housed by a Klein bottle hat, his clear and enthusiastic insights into the weirder side of maths are accessible to nearly all.

The show was a gathering of maths with the wow-factor, such as the amazing and unexpected shapes created by cutting Mobius strips in half, how the heptagrin is the perfect shape for a pizza slice (it also makes a fab skirt),  the non-transitive Grime dice, which will always beat (or lose) to each other, and hefty use of  self-referential meta-ness.

He also shone a light on the concept of coincidence, proving how there is nothing that coincidental about a couple discovering that they were unintentionally captured in the same photograph in a random location as children (although it is still pretty spooky - and I know a married couple it happened to); and how the triangulation of leylines between Stone Age monuments works as well with those ancient temples of consumerism known as “Woolworths”.

The only part of the show where I completely lost my way was during Parker’s explanation of the application of the largest number that has every been put to applied use in human history. Parker used the X Factor as a way of explaining it, but it was still too enormous a concept for me to grasp, with Parker speeding up with his extrapolation as the number got larger and larger; stopping, thankfully, just before my head actually exploded. 

During the interval I heard a group of audience members commenting that it wasn’t “so much comedy as [Parker] pointing out things”. When I put that to him after the show, Parker retorted “well, that’s what Michael McIntyre does...” I think out of the two, if I’m going to have stuff pointed out to me, I’d prefer it to have meaning. But don’t just take my word for it. Carry out your own research, and review the evidence. If we all welcome a little bit more maths into our lives, things can only get meta...

  • First published in Newbury Weekly News on March 14, 2013

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