If there's a comedy night that's smarter, funnier or more eclectic than Robin Ince's School for Gifted Children around at the moment, we can't think of it. A mixture of musicians, scientists and comedians, you always come away having not just been entertained, but edified too. All hail the London Word Festival then, for bringing Robin back to host a space special in the stunning St Leonard's Church.
The night was topped and tailed by Martin Austwick, a quantum physicist who also writes songs about science under his alter ego The Sound of the Ladies. With an acoustic guitar, delicate vocals and full-on science beard, his song Luminiferous Aether is a haunting paean to a completely wrong theory. Helen Keen also gave us an enthusiastic potted version of her show about the history of rocket science, as did Toby Hadoke with his show about his passion for Doctor Who, while Richard Sandling kept threatening to talk about the best sci-fi TV show ever made, Blake's 7, but kept veering off into amusing sideroads, like the time he nearly got lynched at an SF convention for dissing Billie Piper. True story.
You know you've had a good night, though, when you're umming and ah-ing over which of three acts was your favourite. Was it Darren Hayman, who stood in the middle of the church aisle to sing a couple of songs (notably the one about Alan Bean, the fourth man to walk on the moon)? His slightly nasal, impassioned vocals reverberating around the lofty space raised goosebumps that had nothing to do with the chilly ambient temperature.
Or was it Josie Long, who took to the stage in character as a nail technician discussing the time she 'went up space'? Her pant-wettingly funny set reduced the astronautical experience to the same banal level as a night out in Lewisham - we don't know if there was a broader point being made about how we take the space programme for granted these days; we just laughed until we cried.
And then there was Professor Brian Cox, currently sharing his wonder of the cosmos with us all on BBC2 on Sunday evenings. Quietly spoken, but full of conviction, he takes photos of stars and galaxies and puts them into awe-inspiring context while never seeming to lecture; he's just sharing his deep love of astrophysics and the amazing beauty of the universe through the medium of some pretty pictures.
Robin Ince stitched all this glory together with his usual scattergun approach, sometimes reading some Carl Sagan, sometimes holding an audience member's Buzz Aldrin-designed shoe, sometimes organising us into singing the Doctor Who theme. Ince has got to take masses of credit for organising these shows - and the Godless Christmas concerts - all while doing his own stand-up. They are simply brilliant nights (catch the next SFGC at Bloomsbury Theatre on 29th March), and we all tumbled into the cold Shoreditch night considerably happier and smarter than we went in.
Words: Rachel Holdsworth. Pictures: Natalie Ujuk. The London Word Festival continues in venues around East London until 1st April. Darren Hayman performs again on 20th March at Keep Printing and Carry On.