Review for Festival Of The Spoken Nerd: Just For Graphs
It’s been a while since I last had an unsolicited check-disc. I guess they finally got the message that I wasn’t going to review X-Factor Dropouts Go Wild Baking-Off 2. But a few days ago, I did hear an unexpected thump on my doormat. I opened the jiffy up to reveal a DVD release that actually invoked glee, rather than the usual sinking feeling and trip to the nearest waste-bin. It was the new Festival of the Spoken Nerd DVD, a release that I was completely unaware of. A couple of years ago, I reviewed the crowd-funded Festival of the Spoken Nerd: Full Frontal Nerdity release, and was thoroughly entertained by what you might consider impossible; a science comedy show. Stand-up mathematician Matt Parker, experiments maestro Steve Mould, and geek songstress Helen Arney came together to deliver 100 minutes of hilarious and hardcore science and maths, in one fell swoop filling the BBC’s remit to educate, inform and entertain. They’ve only gone and done it again! When that DVD was released, the trio were undertaking their Just For Graphs tour, and on the 6th and 8th of May of 2017, the cameras invaded to capture that show for posterity, and it is presented here on DVD. You can also get it on HD download, and special edition VHS!
So join Helen Arney, Steve Mould and Matt Parker once more, as they set fire to some standing waves, sing a lullaby to a space probe, have fun with Venn diagrams, herd couscous, and bring back the humble fax machine, and plenty more besides.
The image on this disc is approximately 1.8:1 anamorphic widescreen, and you get audio in glorious DD 2.0 mono format, with optional English subtitles. The all important dialogue is clear throughout, and the image is very watchable, with the PowerPoint slides and projections coming through with great clarity, an improvement over the Full Frontal Nerdity disc. I guess it helps that the Albany Theatre where this show was filmed is a more intimate and accessible venue than the Bloomsbury.
You get one DVD disc in an Amaray case. Inside you’ll find a fold-out poster with the chapter list and credits, some ads and promo imagery, and on the reverse a tour-map. The disc boots to a static menu.
You have 4 commentaries on the disc. Three of them feature the comic scientists and their respective significant others, Helen & Rob, Matt & Lucie, and Steve & Lianne. The fourth commentary features the show’s director/editor Trent Burton and comedian Robin Ince. I gave the commentaries a quick try and they all seemed agreeable enough to listen to.
The trouble with us reviewers is that we love to compare things. Take Just For Graphs on its own merits, and you’re in for 90 minutes of geeky science fun with some maths as seasoning. It’s entertaining, it’s informative, and it’s funny, and why would you ask for more? The only thing is that The Festival of the Spoken Nerd spoiled us with Full Frontal Nerdity. That crowd-funded release came jam-packed with extra features, a whole second disc worth on top of the audio commentaries. And it may be a subjective comparison, but I thought Full Frontal Nerdity was just a little bit more entertaining, more informative, and a smidge funnier. It’s all relative of course, and we’re talking the difference between brilliant and genius. One gets a top job as a city banker, the other gets a Nobel prize for physics.
The heart of the comedy is still there, three performing scientists that have the comic touch, and an audience manner that is friendly and playful. They have the comic timing, the banter and above all they make the science interesting and relatable. The show gets off on the right foot too, with a set of ‘loading screens’ that evoke the geek nostalgia for the VHS age, before introducing the show. I mentioned in my review for Full Frontal Nerdity that it was a show for the scientist and the enthusiastic laymen, the sort of people that watched Tomorrow’s World once upon a time. With Just for Graphs, I get the feeling that this one is aimed more firmly at the layman. This time around, I had a far greater sense of déjà vu with the material, I had seen the experiments done in school and college, the maths seemed a little less arcane, and I have spent many an hour as a human aerial with a wet finger and a co-axial cable to get the FM radio in an old midi-system to work. There wasn’t anything quite as mind-blowing or as dangerous as a toroidal vortex, or an exploding pickle.
The important thing is that I laughed. The songs are funny and catchy, the humour is witty and relevant, and something that people can relate to. And there is still plenty to learn here, such as the expansive history of the fax machine; it’s older than you think. And I have to admit to having my mind blown just a little by the self-referential plot. The geek references are present too, as the double tie can attest to.
Just For Graphs tells you all that you might need to know about plots, charts and diagrams, and in a way that will make you grateful for the experience. If my school lessons had been like this... I’d probably still be there. This is probably the most useful 92 minutes of laughter that you’ll expend this Christmas, and if you’re in the mood for more, you can see The Festival of the Spoken Nerd performing their You Can’t Polish a Nerd Show live. Stay tuned to this web-page for forthcoming dates. I’m already looking forward to a DVD landing on my doormat in another 29 months.