Stand up science

Dr Elo Madissoon performing stand-up at the Portland Arms, Cambridge.
Dr Elo Madissoon performing stand-up at the Portland Arms, Cambridge. Image Credit
Michael Conterio

By Alison Cranage, Science Writer, Wellcome Sanger Institute

“It was a misunderstanding,” says Dr Elo Madissoon, reflecting on the start of her stand-up comedy career. “I went to a training session which I thought was for improving public speaking and presentation skills, that sort of thing.” Two weeks later Elo had written and rehearsed seven minutes of material – featuring jokes about black holes, single-cell sequencing and her young children – and stepped onto the stage in a Cambridge pub to perform.

Elo, a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Wellcome Sanger Institute and EMBL’s European Bioinformatics Institute, now has six comedy gigs under her belt. She has just been awarded funding for a project to bring more scientists to the, now virtual, stage. She’ll be performing with new colleagues from the Wellcome Genome Campus, and will be joined by professional comedian and science communicator Dr Steve Cross, as MC. The event will be live-streamed on YouTube on 25th November.

Steve will be training the new recruits over the next few weeks, helping them make their science funny. Tickets for the gig are pay-what-you-can, with all proceeds going to the mental health charity, Mind.

Thinking back to her own first training session, Elo says, “I was very surprised to find myself at stand-up comedy training. I might have left if I could have, but it was nowhere near my usual place of work, and it was all day! So I was stuck.” She stayed, started to enjoy herself, and was fascinated to hear that writing comedy was something she could learn.

“I had the preconceived idea that being funny is something that you are born with. But it’s really not. There are formulas for jokes. There are techniques you can learn and apply to what you know. There are recipes to follow.”

The training also covered how to perform, covering a range of skills. “We learned about timing, which words to stress, and when to stay silent. It has been helpful for regular scientific presentations too. It’s given me confidence,” she adds.

You can catch up on previous Wellcome Genome Campus Bright Club science comedy shows on YouTube, or get tickets for the next gig via EventBrite.

More information

Elo was awarded a grant from the Wellcome Genome Campus Public Engagement enabling fund for this work.