Sunday, May 19, 2013

The least-worst he could be - review of Robin Ince

Robin Ince: The Importance of Being Interested, at Arlington Arts, Newbury, on Saturday, April 27, 2013

PROFESSOR Brian Cox can be credited for many things that are good in the world, but his one achievement for which I give him eternal thanks is his transformation through enlightenment of Robin Ince from workaday observational comedian into comedyland’s biggest science enthusiast. It was Ince’s meeting and subsequent friendship with Cox that called time on his pointing out of the small things and to begin looking at the bigger picture with the wide-eyed enthusiasm of an informed layperson.

Of course, as he pointed out, the problem with looking at universal truths is that they highlight the ultimate futility of individual existence (Ince is a self-defined “liberal atheist”); however, fortunately there is plenty of satisfaction to be gained on our pointless plod through life from the jaw-dropping oddities of nature (“not the best possible design they could be, but the least-worst”) to two of the most excellent and inquisitive minds that mankind has produced: Charles Darwin and Richard Feynman.

Even Darwin’s very being, argues Ince, is proof against the concept of intelligent design - his bulbous nose nearly lost him his berth on The Beagle, as the captain was concerned that it suggested a weak constitution. Eventually he relented, and according to Darwin was “afterwards well-satisfied that my nose had spoken falsely”.

But it was not Darwin’s nose but his fascination with the humblest details of nature that has made his legacy so important. Thinking about it, Darwin would have been an excellent observational comedian: “Have you ever noticed that the earthworm eat their own bodyweight in soil every day?”.

Ince is so very interested in the world that the original running time of the show was four hours (the thought of most ultra-long shows, often performed by rock legends or Ken Dodd, fill me with horror, but I genuinely think that I could cope with four hours of Ince, if regular toilet breaks were allowed). Rather delightfully, although he’s pared it down considerably, he’s kept the discarded slides in his Powerpoint presentation, resulting in tantalising glimpses of other themes on which he would be able to propound at length given the opportunity.

Talking of which, the enormous projection screen at Arlington played its part wonderfully in illustrating Ince’s thoughts; although it will be a long time before I can get the image of a naked Richard Dawkins (represented in a caricature based on The Creation of Adam) out of my mind. But remember: the human male may not be the best possible design, but  it is the least-worst. 

  • First published in the Newbury Weekly News on Thursday, May 9, 2013

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