- October 1, 2018
A favourite from television work and on the radio, a patron of the Brighton Open Air Theatre, and a Hove resident – comedian and writer Simon Evans speaks to Brian Donaldson ahead of touring his new show ‘Genius’.
The exact nature of Genius has always been elusive. But according to comedian Simon Evans, it seems that the bar has been lowered somewhat of late.
“Everyone and everything from a modestly talented centre forward to a bluetooth-enabled juice extractor gets called ‘genius’ these days,” he complains. “I remember when proper geniuses walked among us. I remember when mad geniuses with hair sprouting out of their head at weird angles and mad glinting eyes boggling at you from under eyebrows like feral hedgehogs used to present children’s TV, let alone the adult stuff. Nowadays, they all have perfect hairstyles and neat painted on eyebrows and considerably less mental TNT.”
Well aware that this sort of thing has been the Cry of the Middle Aged Man for generations, Evans points to hard evidence of a collapse in standards. Unsurprisingly perhaps, he starts with the intellectual heft of our rulers.
“Which is to say, p***-poor. Are they a sign of the dangers of egalitarian society? The great wet blanket of democracy? The suspicions we now have about anyone who shows signs of being a bit too smart for their own good? I am afraid they are.”
“The show is about many things. Not least my own failing mental capacity to cope with the modern world, to distinguish between the bleeps of the dishwasher and the tumble dryer or to feel confident in my three-stage text message assessment of my recent experience at the local GP. But I’m more worried about the bigger picture.
“I mean, Theresa May seems like a decent sort of woman – as you might say of someone running the jam stall at the WI market. But to look at her academic achievements – she has a 2:2 in Geography. Be honest, you’d be disappointed if your Geography teacher had a 2.2 in Geography… And Jeremy Corbyn, who I originally took to be a suicide note in human form but is now gearing up to take over at No.10 – two E’s at A level then failed to complete his degree course at North London Polytechnic. These are momentous times and I just don’t think we’re getting the brightest and the best.”
So, where does he think all the clever people are winding up? “My suspicion is that they’re all going to what is now called ‘STEM’ – not gardening, I’m not saying Alan Titchmarsh for PM, but Science, Technology and Engineering and Maths. That seems to be the thing now. I’m hoping my children will learn to code. My wife still insists on them having oboe lessons and doing modern dance. I’m just saying ‘forget it, there will be robots playing oboe soon. Learn to code the oboe robots’.”
Theresa May seems like a decent sort of woman – as you might say of someone running the jam stall at the WI market
As a means of contrasting how times have changed, he points to an iconic publication which has swapped knowledge and depth for trivia and gloss. “I compare the Guinness Book of World Records from when I was ten years old to my son’s latest edition. His one is this smorgasbord of garish full-colour photos of people like Neymar and Adele and the world’s most tattooed man. Whereas in my day it was this dense compendium of facts, about things like the ‘successive records for most distant observed heavenly bodies’ and ‘most predominant mineral deposits on the surface of the planet’. That was the sort of ammo you needed as a boy in 1974. Maybe things have just got more… enjoyable?”
What has certainly been enjoyable over the past couple of decades is witnessing the rise of Simon Evans as one of the most reliable and thought-provoking stand-up talents in the country. Critical acclaim and audience admiration have never been too hard for him to find through live shows such as Fringe Magnet, Leashed and In The Money, while radio listeners have been treated to several series of Simon Evans Goes To Market, his comedy lectures on economic matters. And those clever TV people have got him on the box through shows such as Mock The Week, Live At The Apollo and Dara Ó Briain: School Of Hard Sums.
And yet despite all this exposure, Simon still harbours reservations about his own abilities. “The fact is, while the show is a howl of despair at the decay and collapse of western civilisation, it’s also a recognition of my failure to live up to my own intellectual ambitions, and that moment when you suddenly realise your chances of a Nobel Prize are slipping over the horizon. And yet rather than simply adapt to my naturally waning capacity for learning I’ve entered a strange mania phase where I’m buying more books than I will ever be able to read. I’ve obviously developed a sub-conscious belief that I can simply absorb books by osmosis. I’m determined to be able to wield this information, which started partly with writing this show, Genius. I thought, if I’m going to talk about genius, then I need to demonstrate that I’ve mastered a few things myself, and it’s become this worrying addiction now. I’m surrounded by piles of books: there’s stuff about everything from arcane theories about human intelligence – all incorporated into the show obviously – to books about the Byzantine Empire and German idealism and the nine brains of the octopus and so on. It started as a research but it’s fast becoming a fire hazard. And it’s kind of a nonsense that people will be impressed by this. Certainly my wife remains dubious.”
Simon Evans: Genius, Komedia, Thursday 26 November, 8pm, £26.50/15/13, komedia.co.uk