During a holiday different-points-view piece last year, UK comedian Robin Ince was told that as he was an atheist he must want to do away with the holiday season altogether. To show that secularists and scientists can be as festive (and lazy and overindulgent) as anyone else, Ince arranged a holiday show of comedy and music called Nine Carols and Lessons for Godless People, billed as “a Rational Celebration for Christmas”. The original date at the 400-person Bloomsbury Theatre sold out. They added another, and it sold out. So they added a third at the 4000-person Hammersmith Apollo; it was this show that I attended last night.
Comedy was the main thrust of the evening, with some science jokes and many jabs at religion, alternative medicine, and psychics. There were songs (many funny), singalongs, and a small orchestra. There were talks about science from noted authorities.
The entertainment was very uneven, but averaged out to be more fun than not. Josie Long was pretty weak, Ricky Gervais was very bad (I really don’t find his standup very good), and a couple of the novelty songs were just plain dumb. But some – like Ince and Stewart Lee – were funny, and Dara O’Briainwas hilarious. Jarvis Cocker showed up to play a couple of topical songs, delivered loosely but enjoyably. Popular science author Simon Singh told a funny story about Katie Melua being a nerd. Richard Dawkins read three excerpts from his books, clear and evocative indicators of why he became a populariser of science. There were a couple of snippets from Carl Sagan. Tim Minchin did some funny beat poetry about confronting hippy-dippy alt-medicine nonsense at a dinner party. But I thought Ben Goldacre’s parable – about AIDS denialists and vitamin fantasists and the awful, real damage that bullshit can do – was the most moving part of the evening.
Just because you’re rational doesn’t mean you can’t be festive and fun.
Photo from Diamond Geyser via Creative Commons license