Date Of Birth: 07/07/1964
Rob Newman’s New Theory Of Evolution
Science, you may have noticed, has become something of a major genre within comedy, as stand-ups release their inner geeks to enthuse about their passion for learning, empiricism and cool bits of quantum physics – one in the eye for the blind faith of all those religious types.
But research and theories aren’t always quite as impartial as the ideal, and can be as influenced by trends as anything. So argues Rob Newman in this literate, inquisitive and fascinating show that drills down into the subject of evolution. This is not some light comic take on the subject, but a wide-ranging lecture that evokes Belgian national cohesion, fugitive Russian anarcho-communists and the Dictyostelium discoideum cellular slime mold... not to mention some rather less factually robust tales of Hans Christian Anderson and Richard Dawkins’s naked run-ins with his postman.
Atheist darling Dawkins, it turns out, is one of Newman’s betes noirs. Not that Newman is suddenly going to reveal himself as a fundamentalist creationist... but he challenges Dawkins on his home turf – genetics. The comic takes issue with neo-Darwinist theories about the survival of the fittest; that the most able individuals will thrive in the brutal natural world and so their DNA gets passed down.
But, Newman argues, the notion of the selfish gene comes from a selfish brain. If a scientist sees the world as a competitive place, that colours their research and their findings – in the same way a male-dominated society sees male domination as the nature’s way, when it’s more complicated than that. Of natural selection, there are plenty of examples where co-operation is the key to the survival of a species, where altruistic individuals will sacrifice themselves (and their precious DNA) for the protection of the group.
It’s not hard to see parallels here with dyed-in-the-wool leftie Newman’s own views. Capitalists favour the thinking that the weak die and the strong survive; socialists a more co-operative approach. The selfish gene idea, he believes, was a product of its time, and as evidence mounts against that simple-but-appealing view of evolution, so too can we challenge the idea that capitalism is an inevitable result of how human society functions, as the banking crises exposes the weakness in that model.
This is a show so dense with ideas, you’ll come away with a reading list... or at least a collection of subjects to slap into Wikipedia. Newman himself has done a lot of background research, from scientific papers to, he’s almost embarrassed to admit, a David Attenborough documentary.
‘Interesting,’ is a loaded phrase to put on to a comedy show; but Newman has evolved away from stand-up himself. There are jokes – often made from the comic puncture of the gravity of his theories – and even the occasional ukulele-accompanied ditty, which are nothing special. But be in no doubt this ambitious show is more about ideas than it is about rib-ticklers.
Indeed, Newman’s style (not to mention stylish three-piece suit and cravat) give him the air of an Edwardian amateur scientist lecturing to the Royal Institution, without quite having his notes in order. Even the more overtly comic sections involve a fair amount of meandering. But he’s as charismatic and endearing a presence as ever, and has the storytelling nous to wrap up all the disjointed, often inchoate ideas into a tidy conclusion.
Rob Newman’s New Theory Of Evolution is satisfying, thought-provoking and information-packed, and while can only be tangentially be described as a stand-up show, it is witty entertainment for the insatiably curious.