'Science and comedy don't work badly together'

'Science and comedy don't work badly together'

Comedian/science presenter Dara O Briain explains why he doesn't want to go to Mars

'Science and comedy don't work badly together'

Your new show is called Tomorrow’s Food — presumably that’s a reference to the BBC’s former flagship science series Tomorrow’s World?

Yeah, we’ll do Tomorrow’s Food and the hope is that, depending on how that goes, we’ll move on to do — I don’t know what the next topic would be — Tomorrow’s Cities, or Tomorrow’s Travel. [The show] is done as three one hours, out and about on location. [With] Tomorrow’s World, you’d expect it to be in a studio and us demonstrating things in front of you, whereas this is slightly different.

Are you a foodie?

Well, it would be ridiculous to say that I don’t like to eat. But this show is as much about it on a grand scale as it is about trends in what restaurants we will be eating at. So, partly, that mad speculative stuff that Tomorrow’s World used to do — where we visit a robotic restaurant in Japan, let’s say —and part of it is that things are changing in terms of climate or in terms of how we produce food, and how we globally demand food, so, seriously, what are we doing about this?

How much does science and comedy overlap?

They don’t work badly together. All of the tours will have some sort of sciencey routines running through them to a certain extent. The arguments you are making in a comedy show, as in “this is ridiculous and this is why”, aren’t a million miles logically away from the arguments you make in, say, maths for example. There’s a logical thing called reductio ad absurdum, which a lot of mathematical proofs come down to — you take an initial supposition and then you just see how that leads to a contradiction. That works in maths; it also works really well in comedy, where you assume something and then just take it to its breaking point.

The science of food is a haven for quacks and pseudoscience — presumably you encountered some fairly dodgy claims while making the show?

No, we didn’t — this show wasn’t used as much to do that. You could say we were speculating about whether or not this seaweed pill reduces fat, but we make our claim very tentatively and we make it on the back of hopefully better research.

Would you want to go to Mars?

No, absolutely no interest…

Is that just because of all the potato eating?

Listen, I am an Irishman, I like a good potato. But no, it’s the radiation — it’s a real killer there, literally. The danger is that you spend too much time outside of the magnetic field of Earth and you will go blind. It’s the downer we don’t tell kids on Stargazing, no one’s going to go to Mars because they ’ll get cancer in their soft tissue or they’ll go blind because of cosmic radiation. So it still looks like it’ll be a one-way mission and I don’t have the emotional makeup to want to go on a one-way mission to Mars.

It looks like robots are set to take over cooking, waiting, and even farming. Is the job of a comedian safe?

They tried to do a robot comedian and I’m not sure if he is anywhere on the circuit… I think when the robots rule the world they will still need us, they will still need court jesters. We will turn back from this surprising high status role that comedians have, back to being the court jesters that we more properly are. And the robots will stare at us puzzlingly, but we will keep their human underlings happy as they run the universe.

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