Maths is fun! Hands up if you agree with this statement. What, no-one? No, you nerds at the front don’t count… oh well, never mind.
Contrary to popular opinion I actually do think maths and statistics are pretty cool. This is partly because I am a nerd and partly because I think these topics are cruelly misunderstood.
For both these reasons I thought it would be fun to attend a preview of an Edinburgh Festival Fringe event called ‘Your days are numbered – the maths of death’. Unfortunately my hypothesis was not entirely proven…‘Your days are numbered’ was a great idea, looking at the strange world of death statistics and the fun that’s often had with numbers in the media. My nerd antennae told me that there was a lot of good material to be had here, but I just didn’t think the event was funny enough.
The presenters were comedian Timandra Harkness and stand-up mathematician Matt Parker. They were both great when ad-libbing (and the nerdy heckling they were responding too was pretty funny too), but a lot of the real material didn’t quite hit the mark.
I was able to judge some unbiased reactions too, because I made the mistake of inviting some not-so-nerdy friends. They didn’t thank me for the recommendation. ‘Too much maths, not enough comedy’ was the general verdict. Even my equally nerdy guests weren’t exactly rolling in the aisles.
I did enjoy finding out about some crazy death statistics and the odd concept of ‘micromorts’, but an interesting and only mildly funny show wasn’t quite what I had in mind.
The Wellcome Trust funded ‘Your days are numbered’, and I’d love to know whether they’ll use some sort of laugh-o-meter to assess it. I don’t think the show will change the minds of maths-haters – it seemed designed to preach to the converted, which is a shame because it would be good to bring a few more formerly maths-hating lambs into the fold.
I hope they get a good audience of nerds in Edinburgh – I’m sure they’ll enjoy the show. But I came away thinking that while it might be hard to convince some people that maths is fun and interesting, it’s just as hard to convince a room of people that something’s funny when it isn’t.