When science meets comedy

Science or comedy: Tom Lang and Alanta Colley, co-founders of Sci Fight.
Science or comedy: Tom Lang and Alanta Colley, co-founders of Sci Fight.

Like it or not, in 2018, ‘diversity’ is the talk of the town. There’s growing recognition across many fields - including the performing arts - that diversity is advantageous not just in terms of fairness, but for innovation, culture, and productivity.

Melbourne-based comedian Alanta Colley might well be onto a winner with her unique tactic of event production: she delights in “smooshing together” comedians with scientists,  live on stage.

Colley is  touring Australia with her show, ‘Sci Fight Science Comedy Debate,’ and she’ll be moderating the show in Newcastle next week as her panel battle out the truths and falsities behind the age old adage: Love is a drug.

When asked how sure she was this unusual concoction of professions would work together on stage, Colley laughs, “Well … I knew there would be a lot of potential! I know events with diversity can be very fun. In Melbourne especially, there are a lot of [comedy] rooms which coalesce over time, so you see a lot of the same type of comedians.

“My favourite type of event is where people from different walks of life are brought together.”

Colley describes her typical audience as “science-phillic” - those who, arguably, agree with her when she says, “I think science can be funny, and comedy can be informative.”

“I’ve seen enough stand-up about bad Tinder dates and drunken nights out,” Colley says. “ I’m more interested in learning something.”

Of course, Colley is no stranger to comedy or to science: though this is a claim which few can make. “I do like to dabble!” she explains.

By day,  Colley works in community engagement, a career she first found her way into via her public health studies, and she now continues in the engineering sphere.

Before launching her tour in Adelaide, she was working with students on infrastructure development projects in Timor Leste.

“I’m more ‘science-ish’ than scientist,” she says. “I spent most of my 20s in developing countries, working on sanitation, sexual health and malaria projects.”

The experiences inspired her first Melbourne International Comedy Festival solo show, which she’ll performing again as part of the Sydney Science Festival in September.

“That one was about all the parasites I contracted while working in parasite-prevention,” she says. “Evidently I’m not very good at my job.”

Joining Colley on stage for her Newcastle show is a variety of talented Novocastrian locals. Look out for comedian Ethan Andrews, Newy cheerleader Linda Drummond, reproductive health researcher Emmalee Ford, molecular nutritionist Dr Emma Beckett, climate scientist Heath Stevens, and science communicator yours truly (Dr Chloe Warren).

Though this haphazard panel may well be feeling a little uncertain about each other, and the evening’s events in general, this is all part of Colley’s production strategy.

“The comedians all worry they’re not scientific enough, and the scientists all worry they’re not funny enough, so there’s an enormous amount of imposter syndrome on the stage,” Colley laughs. “But everyone always comes away with new friends.”

Newcastle Sci Fight Science Comedy Debate: Love is a Chemical, August 2, 7pm, Newcastle Museum