[2012102] Your Days Are Numbered: the maths of death

[2012102] Your Days Are Numbered: the maths of death

Matt Parker and Timandra Harkness @ The Science Exchange – Auditorium (RiAus)

8:00pm, Thu 8 Mar 2012

Being an engineer and mathematician by training, I like numbers. And, as I’ve mentioned previously, I like the idea of combining mathematics and comedy. And whilst Simon Pampena has given that idea a whirl, I was seeking something a little more adult.

With a title like Your Days Are Numbered: the maths of death, I thought I’d found a good match.

In front of a near capacity room at the RiAus (downstairs was nearly full, anyway – and that’s where the bar was open), Math teacher Matt Parker starts out strong: he certainly knows his stuff, and is comfortable with PowerPoint, a whiteboard, and a rowdy crowd. Comedian Timandra Harkness, however, didn’t really come across convincingly at all. Where Parker is almost blithely introverted and focussed on the math at hand – the classic straight-man – in attempting to bring the mirth to proceedings, Harkness occasionally comes across as… well, needy. Desperate for laughs.

At least the math was reasonable: Parker throws around all manner of weird death statistics, which Harkness attempts to punctuate with quips and one-liners. They look at how the media can distort statistics, and demonstrate how marketing campaigns twist numbers to their advantage. There’s some well-worn factoids about shark attacks and plain/car/bicycle death rates, and they do a good job of highlighting that a statistically unlikely outcome is… well, unlikely.

But then there’s an audience participation bit that falls a bit flat – look, the audience member only got one of five of the unlikely deaths in the right order of likelihood, so surely he only deserves 20% of the applause, right? And, whilst they’re aiming for a crowd-pleasing discussion of the benefits of alcohol, the “analysis” feels incredibly loose – with precise figures on one hand, “a bit” of alcohol on the other, and a chunk of data dismissed because doctors “sneer” at the result.

So, whilst Your Days Are Numbered was at least mildly entertaining – and mostly pretty good with the numbers – I’m still blessed (and, in a way, cursed) by the fact that I’ve seen an incredible nerdy comedian before… and he still forms the high-water mark for science-based comedy. Unfortunately for everyone else, they continue to be judged against Don McMillan… and come up short.

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