Aired: 5 November 2012, BBC Radio 4
Curator: Jimmy Carr
Steering Committee: Mark Abrahams, Dr Buzz Aldrin and Sara Pascoe
Co-Founder & Editor
of Improbable Research
Marc Abrahams is the creator and emcee of the annual Ig Nobel Prizes which celebrate science that ‘makes people laugh and then think’. A gala ceremony is held each Autumn at Harvard University, USA, where prizes are handed out by genuine Nobel Laureates. The show features demonstrations and live science-based opera performances, for which Marc has written the librettos. 'We're not trying to present you with science that is so complicated, something that you're going to have to spend the rest of your life figuring out how to fit it in your head', he explains. 'We're just trying to make sense of what you see in front of you. That's all we're doing, but we're doing it in a way that we hope is funny'.
He is also the editor and co-founder of Annals of Improbable Research (AIR), which has an editorial board of more than 50 distinguished scientists including nine Nobel Laureates, IQ record holder Marilyn Vos Savant, and a convicted felon. He is a regular columnist for magazines all over the world, including The Guardian and has been a commentator for ABC-TV's World News Now and on public radio. He frequently performs lectures that show both the funny side and the importance of science, medicine, and technology. Among these events is an annual tour of the UK for National Science Week and a special public evening session at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. Proving their international appeal, Marc and several Ig Nobel Prize winners have been depicted as heroes in Young Jump, Japan's most popular manga magazine.
Buzz Aldrin needs no introduction. In July 1969, he became the second of only 12 human beings to have walked on the Moon, a event that was watched live by an estimated 600 million people and which The Economist described as: ‘One of the few events of the 20th century that stands any chance of being widely remembered in the 30th’.
Buzz’s father was a Colonel in the Air Force and an aviation pioneer who knew Orville Wright and, spookily, his mother’s maiden name was Moon. Although christened Edwin, he soon picked up the nickname of ‘Buzz’ because the younger of his two sisters mispronounced ‘brother’ as ‘buzzer’. He made it his legal first name in 1988. After graduating from West Point, Buzz joined the US Air Force where he flew in 66 combat missions in Korea, shot down two MIG-15s, and was decorated with the Distinguished Flying Cross. He went on to earn his Doctorate of Science in Astronautics at MIT and wrote his thesis on Manned Orbital Rendezvous. This led to him being selected by NASA in 1963 and gaining a new nickname: ‘Dr Rendezvous’. The docking techniques he devised for spacecraft are still used today. A keen diver, he also pioneered underwater training techniques to simulate spacewalking. In 1966, on the Gemini 12 orbital mission, Buzz performed the world’s first fully successful spacewalk and set a new EVA record of 5 ½ hours. Now in his 80s, he is still passionate about the future of manned spaceflight and is a committed supporter of plans to put people on Mars.
Among his many other accomplishments Buzz has written a number of books, including some for children. He’s also been down 2½ miles in a yellow minisub with James Cameron to the wreck of the Titanic, recorded a song Rocket Experience with Snoop Dogg, and appeared in Dancing With The Stars, The Simpsons, 30 Rock, Futurama and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. He has a moon, rather than a star, on the Hollywood Walk of Fame and Buzz Lightyear, the space ranger in animated film Toy Story, is named after him (as is a crater on the Moon).
Sara Pascoe is a British writer, stand-up comedian, singer/songwriter and actor. She considers herself primarily an actor. “Acting came first”, she says. “I’ve been an actor since I was 18. But I wasn’t a very successful actor, if you consider being able to afford your rent successful. But then I ended up doing Newsrevue, which was an acting job, cash in hand, and I had to do some comedic writing. I wrote a five minute set on High School: The Musical. I thought it was a really bad example for young people as school is actually really hard, so I wrote Secondary School: The Musical.’” Since then she has been both an actor and a comedian, appearing in shows such as The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, Campus, Being Human, Free Agents, Twenty Twelve and In the Thick of It: “My first day was Peter Capaldi as Malcom Tucker shouting at me and I just kept grinning, thinking ‘This is brilliant!’”
She became part of an all-female sketch show called Girl Friday, which she co-wrote, and started performing stand-up in late 2007. The following year she was a runner-up in the Funny Women competition and placed third in So You Think You're Funny? In 2010 she took a show to Edinburgh called Sara Pascoe Vs Her Ego. She followed this with a show about the supposedly Mayan-predicted end of the world– Sara Pascoe Vs The Apocalypse – and, in 2012 premiered Sara Pascoe: The Musical. “My mum will still tell you that I’m ‘not a funny person’. I’m very earnest”, she says. “But the most beautiful thing about stand-up is that once you get to the point where you can pay your rent by it, no one else can take it away. There’s a brilliant American cabaret act where this old woman takes all these bras out of her top so I can of envisage myself as someone like that in the future, being quite batty.”
Showbiz and music are in Sara’s genes. Her father, the jazz musician Derek Pascoe, was once the vocalist with 70's teen pop group Flintlock and her great Grandmother was the music writer Rosa Newmarch (1857-1940) who became one of the first English critics to champion Russian and Slovak music. From 1908 she wrote program notes for the New Queen's Hall Orchestra, and for Prom concerts until 1927, when the BBC took over the concerts.