Time to write it up. First and most importantly, I stayed in a hotel in central London, went back to it after a big exciting "comedy" show and actually slept! Admittedly, I woke up at 3.15 and then again at 7.15 but for most of the night, I slept! (Recovering insomniac here has never been able to sleep in a city centre before and certainly never after seeing Ed Byrne live.)
Secondly, I suspect I'm not really the target audience for this. To be fair, they did try to keep it secular rather than anti-religious but I'm like all of the atheist brigade in that I bristle at being told what to believe - only, unfortunately, what particularly makes me bristle is being advised that I should be an atheist. No, on the whole they weren't smug or elitest about it, and the majority of them didn't actually mention religion but... I'm not a believer but neither do I ally myself with the atheists.
Despite the title, it was less a "godless" show and more a "rational revelry" all about the love of science. It was a geek night out and I felt like the dumbest person in the room for a lot of it. Most of the audience quite obviously had PhDs - massive black glasses, long hair and earnest expressions were the hallmark of the audience which, incidentally, included Andy Hamilton from QI.
I'm not going to get these quite in the right order, but I'll do my best.
Robin Ince compered it. He started off with just rambling - as co-producer, he was quite concerned that despite the show being sold out, most of the first two rows were empty - should he wait for them? Where were they? There was also a mini orchestra on stage, I forget their name, but they consisted of a piano, drums, tuba, trombone, French horn and trumpet. The trumpeter was the spitting image of Ed Byrne in his first MtW appearance and was wearing black and red stripy socks. Seriously, so uncanny was the resemblance that I was half-expecting him to just put the trumpet down, stand up and do some comedy.
The first act on was Josie Long. I'm quite fond of her but unfortunately, she'd taken the orders of "Just stand there and do anything" too literally. Either that or I just don't understand her rambling, lost style. She gestured to a PowerPoint presentation that wasn't there, talked about the Thames Flood Barrier, did a Q&A of questions and answers written in her notebook and then told one bad joke, which she admitted was bad before she'd even done it. I like her, I like that she looks and acts so thoroughly normal, so much so that I could picture myself as her.
Next was Ben Goldacre. All I knew about him was that he wrote a book called Bad Science. I was willing to like him but... he used his entire five-ten minutes talking about Gillian McKeith in a whining "she-said-this, she-said-that" way which came out less of a triumph of science over Gillian and more of a whine about someone he doesn't like.
In the first half, we also had Jim Bob, guitarist. I can't remember what he played but I remember enjoying it. Chris Cox, a mindreader who doesn't read minds. Robin Ince came back on after him and said "How does he do it?! Well.... I know how he does it. We all know how he does it." Yep, just the start of me feeling like the thickest person in the world. I get how he does the France bit but how did he get her to circle "friends" with the magazine behind her back?" Richard Herring, who has surprisingly short legs, read out a letter he wrote to the Vatican a couple of years ago applying for the job of Pope. Didn't get the job. I quite enjoyed him.
Helen Arney, pretty little geek girl who played the ukulele and sang a song about making love like the animals - animals in question including dogs, salmon and angler fish.
Then there was my second (or third or fourth) favourite comedian in the world ever - Nick Doody. They got his keyboard out and he had three backup singers, a bassist and a drummer - had apparently never played this with the band before. He played a song about a Lovely Hat For Jesus and by the end, the entire audience was singing and clapping along and he was on the stage doing the rock god act. Awesome. I love Nick Doody.
Then it was Ed Byrne's turn. Slightly scuppered by the fact that the keyboard was still on the stage and the mic was still twisted down over the keyboard. He eventually got it untangled, got the stand out of the way and got going. You could see he was fighting the urge to put his beer down on the keyboard throughout the whole ten minutes. His hair is growing back beautifully. How many times did it get in his eyes? My mother would have taken the kitchen scissors to it. That boy should invest in some hairslides. It's odd, I've seen his "new gear" so many times that I know most of it by heart by now and yet the actual tour it's part of doesn't start for another three months. He did the thing where his name is an anagram of Be Nerdy, he did the drunk CERN scientists, the anti-Mars jingoism ("Fuck you Mars! You let your molten core solidify! Arsehole! Now your lack of magnetic field allows solar winds to play havoc with your atmosphere! Wanker!" and finished off with the Star Trek stuff. Incidentally, I'm hoping that the "costume" for Crowd Pleaser is what he's been wearing the last few times I've seen him - long-sleeved top under geeky t-shirt, jeans falling off him and hiking boots. Much more to my taste than a suit.
Also the following exchange happened. He has a routine which involves asking the audience if any of them have met a celebrity who turned out to be a dick. Yes, he pronounces the italics.
Ed: Has anyone here ever met a celebrity who turned out to be a dick? Not you were drunk and being an idiot. And don't shout "Ed Byrne!", it's cruel.
Audience member: Me!
Ed: And who did you meet who turned out to be a dick?
Audience member: Patrick Moore.
Ed (taken aback): Patrick Moore? This is going to be a hard sell, convincing this crowd that Patrick Moore's a dick. How was Patrick Moore a dick?
Audience member: He was a bit racist.
Ed: ... I don't think I want to hear this. It's going to put everyone in the audience in a bad mood and I can't have that happening during my bit. Don't tell me. Let us all keep our mental picture of the great Patrick Moore intact.
That was the end of the first half. That took up an hour and a half.
The second half started with Robin Ince in a cold fury. He'd had some dentistry done on a nerve, I think the painkillers were wearing off and his temper just went. Didn't stop it being funny but almost in a Basil Fawlty kind of way. The next person - and I've forgotten exactly who it was - wasn't hugely delighted at having to come on straight after such rage.
There was Adam Rutherford, who had done the Alpha Course, so we didn't have to. His point was that "us atheists don't often talk to Christians" and we should all do the Alpha Course because then we can talk to people with opposing views and take direct action by questioning everything while we're at it. I'm not a militant atheist and my best friend is a devout Mormon. Incidentally, he had some survey results - what religious group correctly answered the most questions about the Bible? Atheists/agnostics won that one by quite a chunk. Jews second, Mormons third. And he was delighted to have the entire atheist audience reciting the Lord's Prayer. He also did something I never thought I'd hear - he got a roomful of geeks applauding the words "Lord of the Rings is really fucking boring!"
Mitch Benn - he sang a song about the real meaning of Christmas. "Eat until it hurts, then drink until it stops hurting." He also claimed that we may have seen his band first with Nick Doody "but I saw them first!"
Matt Parker. My favourite act of the evening. A stand-up statistician. I know such things can be funny, I've got a mate with a Masters in something mathsy/sciency and I vividly remember sitting (sober) in a pub one evening, laughing until it hurt at him attempting to explain something mathematical. I suspect I will never again hear a man stride out onto a stage and bellow "Are you ready for some data analysis?!!!" and hear an entire theatre roar back "YES!!!!". Honestly, he was not only clever but he was funny. I saw a stand-up mathematician and I loved it.
Baba Brinkman. An eight minute rap version of the sage of Beowulf. It was glorious and I genuinely began to feel creeped out halfway through. Really "keep your mouth shut, you can not scream out loud here," sort of fright. I've since found it on YouTube. You have to listen. Ignore the pictures, he explains in the rap about the film.
Stewart Lee. I'm not keen on him. Sorry. I know I'm hugely biased towards Ed Byrne but he's polished and word-perfect and utterly, utterly comfortable on stage. Stewart Lee is clearly equally comfortable on stage but despite everyone laughing, I just never felt like he'd made a connection with the audience.
Joanna Neary. She was clearly relying on a PowerPoint presentation but unfortunately, it wasn't working so she'd done some (really good) drawings on a notepad and held them up. And she was funny and the audience loved her but she was very obviously very scared. I've never seen anyone shaking so badly and every other word was "sorry" and she sounded like she was about to burst into tears. I was quite relieved when she was finished.
Then there was Robyn Hitchcock and his entourage, which consisted of Helen Arney, Joanna Neary, the three back-up singers from Mitch Benn's band and Ben Goldacre. They sang a song about a tarantula but it was quite clear none of them had ever sung it before and he was prompting them in between lines, which meant the audience could learn it at the same time.
Then it was Simon Singh. He'd collected some questions about the universe from the audience, switched on a big countdown clock and tried to answer five questions in five minutes before finishing off with demonstrating how we know the Big Bang happened - light gets stretched and so it isn't the colour we expect but how do we know what colour to expect? Well, to cut a long story short, it's the same colour as you get if you electrocute a gherkin. "This is a gherkin, it's been pickled in salt so we've got sodium atoms and these are two forks that I've hooked up to the mains - don't try this at home, especially not under time constraints! - and this is what happens when you put 240 volts through a gherkin!"
And finally, Al Murrey, to restore some faith to proceedings by showing us that Jesus was British and to get the entire audience singing Incy Wincy Spider, complete with the actions, while he stood on the back of the front row seats, hands aloft.
In my experience, shows that start at 7.30 tend to end around 10pm and shows that start at 8pm tend to end around 11.30. This one started at 7.30 and went on until 10.50. 17 acts, not including Robin Ince, and one big night out for me. The Bloomsbury Theatre is not as big as I expected. I didn't realise it's part of UCL and is about the same size and shape as my own university theatre. I like seeing comedy in small intimate spaces like that.