Events, Influences on behaviour

Serious laughs!

Bringing comedy and science together

On April 9, 2018, BehaviourWorks researchers took part in an experiment unlike any they’d ever tried before – a live comedy show. ‘Smart Phones, Dumb People’ was performed to a packed house at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival for one night only, and what a night it was. 

Advertised as “a mix of behavioural science, gags and live experiments”, the show pushed the boundaries of the live Change Room events already established by BWA, where research and entertainment come together to keep the audience engaged and informed. 

Hosted by writer, performer and BWA Content Curator, Geoff Paine, this is a powerful way of translating science from academia to the real world and it’s becoming, as they say, a ‘thing’.   

While the theme of the show was how our smart phones are changing our behaviours, giving research an entertainment angle is something science is getting bigger, better and bolder at.  

The British actor Bill Nye has made a career out of it, as has American legend, Alan Alda.  

“At a time when science can seem a generator of bad news – there are few comedies about climate change right now – people crave the kind of learning experience that lets them learn and laugh at the same time,” said Geoff. 

“In ‘Smart Phones, Dumb People’, the immediacy of a live audience, the ability to conduct live polling from (ironically) people’s smart phones, the shared experience of 133 people in the same space discovering the same insights, all combined to make it a little dangerous and exciting to be part of.” 

Five  BWA researchers – Liam Smith, Fraser Tull, Kim Borg, Sarah Kneebone and Peter Bragge, many of whom had never performed before, joined Geoff to present set ups and gags, straight up scientific facts and a few unexpected moments where it seemed like it was all going wrong.  

And it did, hilariously.  “These  moments  can’t be planned and it’s that sense of risk of failure that makes it a truly special event,” added Geoff.

Repeat performances are planned for the future, but for a glimpse of ‘Smart Phones, Dumb People’, we’ve attached a highlights video for you to enjoy.