I think I first heard of Dean Burnett through his blog, Science Digestive, when the mainstream press covered his amusing first application for a position as an NHS Homoeopath. I read his second application first, and it had me in tears of laughter: I imagined him as a sharp, arrogant and rather cruel fellow, though clearly a comic genius, and might have thought he went to far if this was not an NHS position! I have since seen more of his job applications — if you have not read them, and I confess I have not read his application to be a psychic yet, stop and go and read them now. 🙂
Now they are ten times funnier (the homoeopathy ones) if you know something of the history and “theory” of homoeopathy – but for once I am not going to encourage you to bother to go look it up, unless you really want to. You can find out most of what you might want to know in the wikipedia article. Ben Goldacre deals with the subject in his excellent book Bad Science — but let it be noted for the sake of honesty and my integrity that my prejudices against homoeopathy could be utterly unfair – I have never actually reviewed the literature properly, let alone taken a remedy. I can not see how it can work; which of course does not mean it does not. One day I will examine the claims carefully – for now, everything I have read suggest it is rubbish. Here is the British Homoeopathic Association website, in the interest of balance. Later this year I will try to look at as many of the papers as I can. I try for critical thinking and yet to be genuinely open to odd ideas if evidence can be had…
Anyway tonight I went to the second meeting of the Cheltenham Skeptics in the Pub. It was absolutely packed, with 53 folks there to watch Dean, a recent PhD in Neuroscience, do a talk combining stand up comedy and science. It was truly excellent, and just as entertaining as Trystan Swale’s discussion of Crop Circles last time.
So why did I enjoy it so? Firstly, too many stand ups seem to want to be Bill Hicks, or Lenny Bruce. This is 21st century Britain. Other are stuck in the 1970’s – the routines are formalised, with genre tropes, with a kind of structure, which makes the performance feel like a homage to great stand ups off the past. And then there are the shock-jocks – the ones who sell explicit and offensive humour to challenge. The problem is, good comedy to me is reportage: it grows from lived experience. Black humour, and dark mature themes are fine if you happen to live like the Velvet Underground meet the Exploding Plastic Inevitable on a knife edge of decadent excess, surrounded by freaks and geniuses – otherwise you are just an overgrown adolescent trying to be offensive. So what am I saying, other than I know bugger all about comedy? Probably that I have no sense of humour 🙂
So why did I enjoy Dean Burnett? Because he deals with material he understands, that is bloody hilarious, and is at times grim, at times worrying, but he takes you with him – because he talks about stuff he knows, his own life, and his work as a scientist. And he is not the arrogant evil genius I imagined at all: he is self deprecating, slightly nervous, clearly highly intelligent and a warm and I would imagine compassionate bloke who thinks carefully and also happens to be wonderfully funny.
Of course I am immensely critical: I rarely praise anything – but if Dean produces a DVD, I’d buy it tomorrow, and I if was still working in TVland I’d push Dean as a really interesting bloke to watch. He has already achieved a lot of success: I guess he will do better. I never did manage to ascertain what his neurological speciality is : I know it’s the temporal lobe, because he modestly mentioned that and pointed out his knowledge of the rest of the old noggin was not as extensive; but anyway thanks to everyone from Cheltenham Skeptics at the Pub for an interesting night, and if you have not seen Dean yet, try and catch him.