Robert Newman: The Brain Show
A dense and highly intelligent show that might struggle to penetrate an audience's grey matter
This article is from 2016.
A former half of comedy duo Newman & Baddiel, and writer for The Mary Whitehouse Experience, Robert Newman has had various incarnations since then, including stints as an anti-establishment activist and novelist. He's back again, this time in full boffin mode, for an hour of analysis of neuroscience.
Admirably full of respect for his audience's intelligence, and refreshingly free of navel-gazer stand-up narcissism, it's still a slightly too dense show, crushing in academic observations, a romantic subplot and ukulele numbers with a pair of cuddly, flashing squids. The springboard for The Brain Show came from an experiment he volunteered for at University College London, aiming to study brain activity around love. From that, he has constructed something part TED Talk and part science documentary, with history lecture chucked in among impressions of Paul McCartney and Johnny Rotten.
As he rattles through quotes from Freud, Darwin and Sartre, there's a feeling that Newman's brain whirrs faster than the average, and his audience can't always process it all in time. Dotted with interesting trivia – on the history of gendered colours or the behaviour of bioluminescent sea creatures, for example – those seeking laughs may find his over-ambitious show doesn't always stimulate the right parts of the brain.
Summerhall, run ended.