Ben Miller’s Stand-Up Science


Laughing Horse @ The Three Sisters (The Wee Room), Edinburgh

You know when they say there’s not enough room to swing a cat? Here in The Three Sisters’ Wee Room, you’d be hard pressed to squeeze in a photo of a cat. The first joke of the gig appears to be the venue. It’s literally a cupboard. From September to July, it’s no doubt used for storing toilet rolls. I know it’s a trope of the Fringe: every available space will be pressed into service. But I’ve been to most venues, and this is a new low. There are twenty-three of us crammed inside an airless box. I find myself being a lot more churlish than usual. “You can’t keep selling tickets,” I say to the guy at the door, as venue staff bring along another small bench and attempt to direct two more punters inside. “The room fits twenty-five,” one of the bench-movers says, nicely. And proves her point by using the bench to prop open the door, and inviting the couple to sit facing the corridor.

I feel bad when I realise the guy at the door is actually Ben Miller (not that one), because I don’t want to make things difficult for him. It’s not his fault, after all. I’m sure he’d like a bigger room. Or, you know, an actual room.

Still, Miller (not that one) doesn’t seem fazed. Maybe he’s used to it by now. He introduces himself, and establishes the concept: we’re in a science lesson. And, despite his nervous supply-teacher vibe, he’s in perfect control. He asks a bit about people’s experiences of school, and reassures us that this lesson will be interesting, so long as we like to learn. And it is: in particular, the science behind his timid-looking stance. He has pectus excavatum, which means he has a concave chest, and that his heart and lungs are all squashed up inside (not to labour a point, but I know how they feel). The set is structured exactly like a lesson: there is some lecturing, a PowerPoint, a Q&A, and even a pop quiz, to check that we’ve been paying attention. It’s funny too. Miller (not that one) is adept at using his low-status persona to maintain a calm, gently humorous tone, even in the face of some very esoteric heckling, clearly intended to test his science credentials. This is stand-up-disguised-as-science, rather than Robin Ince-style science-disguised-as-stand-up, and I laugh a lot. I never knew I had a favourite element until now…

Miller (not that one) is also playing an evening slot at ZOO Playground, so – if you’re claustrophobic – maybe try to catch him there instead. If cheek-by-jowl doesn’t bother you, then head to The Three Sisters. Either way, this is definitely the most enjoyable science lesson I’ve ever attended.

3.5 stars

Susan Singfield

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