Yesterday, after work, our Head of Department invited staff to Wates House, which is either one of the campus pubs or an extension of the Physics Department, depending on your view. It used to be the SCR / Staff Club back when we had such a thing. The reason for the invite was the fact that, for the first time, we have exceeded 1,000 applicants to come here to study Physics.
I took advantage of the Head's largesse and enjoyed a pint of Hogs Back Brewery's Winter Ale, then it was time for my colleague, Jim Al-Khalili, and I to go to the other part of campus to help with the South-Eastern regional final of FameLab. I was to compere and Jim to lead the judging panel. I was only really told about what would be involved a day or so before. As well as generally introducing everyone and keeping proceedings moving, I learnt that I was also supposed to "do a set" for about 10 minutes to entertain the audience. Well! Fortunately, being the consummate professional
bullshitter that I am, I wasn't too fazed by the challenge. What did make me look, or at least feel, a little unprepared was that there were lots of FameLab facts it was suggested I tell the audience. Not being familiar with them, they didn't trip off my tongue in a very natural way... but it all went just fine. If I had to do it again, I would look like an old hand, I'm sure.
As for the important part of the event - it consisted of 7 winners of previous heats who had to come onstage with nothing but what props they could carry (if any), and speak for 3 minutes about some science topic. I must say that they all did very well, and I'm sure the judges were not exaggerating when they said that the standard was higher than at other FameLab competitions they'd judged. Only one person could win, and that was Caroline Shenton-Taylor, who talked about anti-rubber - material that gets wider when stretched, unlike rubber bands (and most things) that get narrower. I thought she did a great job of explaining, with a useful Meccano prop, and was a worthy winner. Caroline will now go off to the final in London in April. The runner-up, Claire le Cras, will be in a play-off with other runners-up to go there too.
In the end, I didn't do any stand-up as such. During the judges deliberation, the small crowd, of mostly friends of the contestants, were chatting happily away, and no entertainment was called for. Probably for the best. The few jokes I tried slipping in elsewhere were received with groans.