Published: 19 September 2013

Surrey academics show the funny side of maths at Edinburgh Fringe

Two Surrey mathematicians swapped University life for a stint of stand-up comedy at the legendary Edinburgh Fringe Festival, describing it as a terrifying – but exhilarating – experience.

Professor Rebecca Hoyle and Dr Jock McOrist from the University’s Mathematical Sciences Department appeared at the Fringe Festival in August as part of the Bright Club – a nationwide movement that puts academics on stage to perform stand-up loosely based on their area of research. Although both had already gained their comedy wings at Guildford’s thriving Bright Club, appearing at the Fringe – and following in the footsteps of comedy geniuses such as Stephen Fry, Lee Evans and Russell Howard – took the terror of performing to a whole new level.

Rising admirably to the challenge, they threw themselves into the Fringe experience – which included distributing flyers before their show in order to rustle up a good audience – and took to the stage with a contingent of Surrey academics-turned-comics at the Edinburgh Assembly Rooms.

Dr McOrist says: “Before I did my first Bright Club performance, I couldn’t imagine anything I’d say would be funny, but I hoped to be able to tell some interesting stories, some people would learn something new and if they were sufficiently inebriated, might giggle. In Edinburgh, instead of being full of nerves, I was full of excitement, and – to top it all off – they laughed!”

He adds: “I know people in Australia who enter nationwide competitions to win the opportunity to perform at the Fringe Festival; somehow I wangled my way in there without having to win anything!”

While Dr McOrist’s act revealed whether being good at maths can help a teenage boy to get a girlfriend, Professor Hoyle had the audience eating out of the palm of her hand with her take on evolutionary biology, including a description of bat sex (“Now bat sex is just funny…they do it upside down for a start!”)

Describing her first stand-up experience at the Bar des Arts in Guildford as “sheer terror”, Professor Hoyle says “I would never in a million years have imagined I’d perform at the Edinburgh Fringe and I’m so glad I did. I had a fantastic time and I’ve finally impressed my father, who is an actor.”

Having since appeared at a Bright Club in ‘Einstein’s Garden’ at The Green Man Festival in Wales, Professor Hoyle has definitely caught the stand-up bug. “I would happily spend my whole time telling silly jokes in tents in muddy fields in Wales. Someone actually came up to me afterwards and said ‘I liked your gig!’ They don’t say that after lectures…”

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