Marcus Brigstocke

PUBLISHED: 18:00 07 June 2012 | UPDATED: 21:28 20 February 2013

Marcus Brigstocke

Marcus Brigstocke

Stand-up comedian Marcus Brigstocke is one of the guest directors of this month's Cheltenham Science Festival. Katie Jarvis questioned him on life, the universe and Jeremy Kyle.

Marcus Brigstocke

Stand-up comedian Marcus Brigstocke is one of the guest directors of this months Cheltenham Science Festival. Katie Jarvis questioned him on life, the universe and Jeremy Kyle

Our scientists question not only what we are sure we dont know but also the things we imagine we know, writes Marcus Brigstocke, in the introduction to this years mind-blowing Cheltenham Science Festival brochure. So not too dissimilar to comedians, then, Marcus?

I hope thats so, he says, rolling the idea round his rather interesting mind. Certainly, my favourite end of comedy explores everyday situations by saying, Lets turn this over and have a look at it from the other side. I love Michael McIntyres routine, for instance, where he asks why salt and pepper are the successful spices. Its about all the other spices in the cupboard feeling jealous. (YouTube it, if you havent seen it; it is hilarious.)

Im not 100 per cent sure why a stand-up comedian has been asked to be a guest director of this years science festival along with space scientist Dr Maggie Aderin-Pocock and neither, to be honest, is he. But its an inspired choice. We both suspect it might be to do with God Collar, his stand-up show-turned-comedically-angst-ridden-book. Somewhere between Dawkinss The God Delusion and Hitchenss God is Not Great but with a more likeably cheeky grin its the cry of a reluctant atheist who wants to make a connection to God but cant get a signal. In it, he pokes fun at himself in particular and at hypocrisy in general; but the lasting impression is that he envies the faithful.

I suppose its another one of these rationalist manifesto pamphlets, though the position I take includes furthering my understanding of faith and why people choose to believe. Indeed, it makes perfect sense to me as to why people have faith in their lives; its something that, if I could do, I probably would. (Indeed, God Collar, which was a sell-out literary festival event last year, is enjoying a science festival outing, too, on June 17.)

So, he concludes, still musing on his festival good fortune, the work Ive done on secularism and atheism and stuff means I automatically fall under the radar of the science bods. And Ive always had an enthusiasm for technology and scientific development because it happens to chime with the approach that I take to most of my life.

There you are: a thoughtful answer from a thoughtful chap. Hes not one of these comedians who consider merely shouting **** at WI members to be, de facto, witty (like when boys run into the girls loo at school as he puts it). The epithets applied to Marcus include cerebral, razor-sharp and, most telling of all, corduroy-clad. The jokes are extremely funny but you sometimes wonder if theyre secondary to his fight against middle-class presumption, prejudice-disguised-as-politics, and unforgiveable warmongering.

What you will know if youve heard any of his shows, are a fan of The Now Show, or have caught him on HIGNFY is that his science-fest choices will be far-from boring. Such as the event hes organised with the evolutionary geneticist Mark Thomas. I had dinner with Mark when I was up for the literary festival. Hes one of those people where everything he says leads in your mind to 20 other questions youre suddenly desperate to ask him.

Such as?

Adam and Eve lived about 20,000 years apart.

Not great for any kind of long-term relationship.

Very tricky. But hell furnish you with a very joyful and fascinating answer to each of your questions. Thats what happened over dinner so Im really hoping the audience will equally enjoy what he has to say.

He almost plugs your god-shaped hole?

In a sense he does. But hes just utterly fascinating and its an area of science I suppose I was aware of but Id never met anyone who was actually doing it.

Other Marcus events include looking behind headlines of stories which suspiciously begin Scientists believe, with the help of Robert Winston, Andrea Sella and Quentin Cooper; and Marketing the Apocalypse: hes convinced the environmental movement would be far more successful if it improved its (recycled, but-of-course) packaging.

So go on, Marcus; sell me the end of the world.

I was at an event at the Start Festival, Prince Charless climate-change initiative at Clarence House, where we were challenged by somebody in the audience as to why on earth we were drinking bottled water. Obviously, relatively speaking its an indefensible thing to do; except that its also really interesting. Bottled water costs more than petrol; we all have access to the same substance for free; and yet we buy it. Now that is a triumph of marketing.

So the idea of marketing the apocalypse is to say: Well, look; the science around this stuff is off-putting; its been politicised and it pisses a lot of people off. There must be a way of marketing it better; of taking out the finger-wagging and making the things that are possible seem appealing. So thats the idea. To bring together a climate-scientist and a marketing expert; and I will hopefully comedically link the two up to try and make the idea of sustainability a bit more sexy.

And thats typical of his approach. It will be funny; but its very, very serious, at the same time. Climate-change deniers are one of a range of combatants hes been pacifically fighting long-term: George Osbornes position on it ought to be enough to have him chased out of Number 11 and across the countryside by a pack of dogs.

Climate-change deniers will send you to the same website, which is full of stuff thats been scientifically blown out of the water, and yet its never updated; it just carries the same lies. There are plenty of morons who want to go to a website like that and believe whats on there and thats fine; but the number of otherwise-intelligent people or people who are engaged in what purports to be serious politics who claim climate change isnt happening is entirely baffling.

Well, there wont be too many of those at the science festival. Instead, there are considered, brainy and knowledgeable luminaries such as Vivienne Westwood, Tim Minchin, Robert Winston, Ruby Wax and Brian Cox; and subjects under the microscope that include saving birds from extinction, the science of optimism, the genius of Alan Turing, problems with the economy, and the evolution of the human brain.

All of which might help answer some of the Big Questions that Marcus Brigstocke poses in the science brochure: Is there life as we might understand it anywhere out in space? What does it feel like when we die? Why is Jeremy Kyle? (The latter two being, ostensibly, much the same thing.)

Actually, Marcus, why is Jeremy Kyle?

Its just so awful, isnt it? Imagine waking up and wanting either to see that on the telly but, more worryingly, waking up in an environment where you think: The best way of me explaining my life is to be a guest on The Jeremy Kyle Show.

Another of lifes bafflements. (Though, like you, Ive never seen it either.) If we could explain that away, we probably wouldnt need a science festival. â– 

For more about Marcus Brigstocke, including soon-to-be-announced dates for his new show, The Brig Society, visit

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