The Science of Laughter at Bloomsbury Theatre
Performance Lab is a new series of shows, lectures and experiments from the culture department of University College London which combine science and entertainment. This production was the inaugural ticketed event of 11, in which neuroscientist Professor Sophie Scott and stand up comics to explored the science of laughter together.
As it transpired, something that is so everyday is actually surprisingly mysterious. Professor Scott explained that the forcing out of air that we call laughter trumps breathing or talking. It’s a very complex social behaviour that always has some sort of meaning and is also learned in childhood to be contagious: we learn that if someone – especially someone we like and know – is laughing, we want to join in. We are social creatures who bond through this response.
Comedian Stuart Goldsmith was the slick and charming compere. In the first act, Tim Key came on stage with a plastic bag full of cans of beer, one of which rolled off into the audience. A standoff ensued with an audience member, who put the can on stage rather than in the comedian’s hand, as he would have preferred. He then kicked it off stage again, got someone else to hand it to him and opened it, showering himself in beer before the show could begin. He was anarchic and unpredictable – very much into audience interaction – and his performance was absolutely hysterical.
As was our second comic guest, Mawaan Rizwan, who strutted on in a hipster half-jacket and explained he had been to Shoreditch. He mixed his comedy with musical numbers, such as a catchy love song to mangoes which also had a political element. He was a camp, joyous performer with a pleasingly surreal side. Some of his stand-up was very personal, and he seemed somewhat preoccupied with the level of counters that Row E had put in six cylindrical tubes in order to measure their hilarity: “Could you not have got smaller containers?” Adorable.
After each performance, Professor Scott produced the results of the six audience members who were hooked up to various monitors to see what they had found most funny. All six broadly tallied and it was fascinating to see laughter rendered in such a way. As Professor Scott pointed out, there are thousands more studies on fear and disgust than there are on laughter. Hilarious and interesting.
Photo: Belinda Lawley
The Science of Laughter is at Bloomsbury Theatre on 2nd May 2019 as part of the Performance Lab season. For further information and future events visit the theatre’s website here.