Laughter on the Brain

Billed as ‘Comedy show meets science experiment’, I was pretty excited about Laughter on The Brain. A shame then that, despite having the word ‘laughter’ in the title, this is an obnoxiously dull hour. Not even school-science-lesson dull, as there’s no way an adult audience will have learnt anything they didn’t already know.

When you do so, look up Eric Weihenmayer and go to - that’s pretty much everything this show has to offer.

Kate Webster’s script attempts to use Caitlin Ince as ‘Left-Brain’ and Dominic Ridley as ‘Right-Brain’ to cheerfully explain the brain-chemistry behind what makes us laugh, and how we understand what’s funny. Unfortunately her understanding of funny seems to be to have Ridley’s ‘Right-Brain’ character speak only in in pathetic puns, desperately trying to raise a titter and break up Left-Brain’s insatiable stream of patronising primary school facts. Most of us know what neurons are thank you, and don’t need a mobile phone signal analogy to explain them to us. Poor Ridley gets landed with such comedic gems as “ bees don’t have knees? Buzz off!”.

From lateral functionalisation to behavioural contagation, the formula applies - Left Brain earnestly delivers explanation of not very complex scientific concept, employing clunky metaphor for good measure: Right-Brain delivers rubbish one-liner: Left-Brain rolls eyes: nobody laughs.

Some way through it becomes clear that Left-Brain and Right-Brain are also meant to be in a relationship. They start to pretend to be brushing their teeth or doing some washing, conversation none-the-less following the pattern above, and theres a particularly awkward scene based on a Star Trek Kirk vs Spock metaphor for their relationship - because they’re opposites you see. Left-Brain is taking a PhD (“which stands for ‘perpetually having doubts” - nobody laughs), whilst

Right-Brain loves to go out to comedy gigs (name-dropping comedian after comedian isn’t particularly funny either). Then Left-Brain reveals she’s pregnant, basically so that Webster can write about some cool experiment she’s seen where babies look at pictures of cats, and do some vague philosophising about the similarities between stand-up comedy and ‘peek-a-boo’. Oh, and tell us that when babies laugh it’s just wind - yawn.

Caitlin Ince and Dominic Ridley can’t be blamed for this dire writing/directing combo. They’re as likeable as their characters allow them to be and show a little comic potential when released from them in an audience-participation scene. There’s also a couple of nicely judged moments between them - such as the Left-Brian Right-Brain waltz. There was a cameo from Eddie Izzard (through the speakers), so I did laugh a bit, and a true story about a blind climber who harnesses electrical impulses to climb by taste, so I guess I learnt something.

Apparently Cicero said that a joke comes from expecting one thing and getting another - the void between expectation and reality being where the laugh is. I was expecting some interesting scientific nuggets put across in a hilarious way from Laughter on the Brain. Instead I got this, and there’s nothing but disappointment in that void. I would have learnt more and laughed more if I’d stayed home and had a lazy Google. When you do so, look up Eric Weihenmayer and go to - that’s pretty much everything this show has to offer.

Reviews by Penny Jayne

The Blurb

Part gig, part neuroscience experiment - for anyone who’s interested in laughter, science or just wants to give their intercostals a work out. Why do we laugh, what happens when we do and how do we understand what's funny? Find out how laughter generates endorphins, why you laugh less past the age of 7 and which animal laughs if you tickle it.