Astronautics and space systems feature strongly in science fiction but have seldom been the stuff of stand-up comedy – until now.Â Dr Chris Welch, a principal lecturer from Kingston University whose mind is usually more focused on the distant realms of outer space, has unexpectedly found himself a new niche as an adviser on extra-terrestrial humour.
He has been drafted in to share his expertise with stand-up comedienne Helen Keen, who wanted to get the facts right for her debut at this yearâ€™s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The 2005 winner of Channel 4â€™s New Comedy Writing Award and a contributor to BBC Radio Fourâ€™s The Now Show, Keen is using her Edinburgh slot as a launch pad for her latest show, It Is Rocket Science!.
The unlikely collaboration was born when Keen crossed paths with Dr Welch while he was giving a lecture at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Space Age. She promptly enlisted his help devising her show, which she describes as a celebration of star-gazing and the boundless possibilities of an infinite universe that emphasises the role of space engineers. â€œItâ€™s a whistle-stop tour around the great brains who put monkeys, ladies, dogs and gentlemen into orbit,â€ she said.Â
Dr Welch confesses that he had never thought celebrating half a century of human achievement in space would lead to so much ribaldry back on planet Earth. â€œThere I was delivering a lecture about what is, after all, truly a giant leap for mankind, only to be approached afterwards by someone who wanted to pick my brains to write jokes. The upshot was that I was asked to work with Helen and her writing partner, Miriam Underhill, on the content and background for It Is Rocket Science!,â€ he said. The trio set to work exploring a myriad of subjects, from rocket engines and the history of space exploration to some of the eccentric scientists involved. â€œTeaching students about rocket propulsion, space exploration and satellites is usually more up my street but it was a great pleasure to provide Helen with information and advice and Iâ€™m sure the show will be a huge success,â€ Dr Welch said.
Dr Welch is not the only fan of the show. The Institute of Physics was so impressed by the concept that it awarded a small grant for its development.
It Is Rocket Science! will be a daily feature of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival programme, staged at 12.30pm in the Gilded Balloonâ€™s Teviot Wee Room between 30 July and 26 August.