This guest post was written by Dr. Claire Murray, who is a project officer with the European Citizen Science Association.
I’m still not quite sure why I decided that drawing a comedy set was a good idea. I am the ‘antithesis absolute’ of artistic. In primary school when maths class ended and art class began, I would stare longingly at my maths book and pencil whilst begrudgingly splashing along with whatever creative endeavour we were supposed to be doing. This has not gotten better over time – a friend of mine genuinely cried with laughter when I drew her a picture of a horse a few years ago. So whatever moment of ‘genius’ that struck me to draw my Bright Club set was probably intended for someone else. However, once I get an idea, I tend to run with it, so drawing it was, even if I was (MASSIVELY) outside my comfort zone.
That’s the thing about Bright Club Ireland. It’s a safe space to explore strange and unusual things in ways that you would rarely get the chance to do in your day job (unless you are a full time comedian!). Given the normal rules for Bright Club, this set would not have been possible in this exact incarnation. However, after three months of giving online talks during the first few months of lockdown, I figured it was time to try something new. Drawing felt like a way to break the virtual wall between me and the audience, even if it was just to share a confusing experience together.
The periodic table is a defining reference point for every chemist, and is in fact one of the most identifiable shapes in the world. The fact that so much information can be deducted and inferred from a periodic table had clear analogies to online dating profiles, so I decided to take serious artistic and chemical liberties. ‘Bonder’ was born, the dating platform for humans and molecules to get ‘intermolecular’. If you are not super familiar with molecules then this might sound a bit strange, but think of it like this: molecules have a weight, a shape and nicknames, plus interesting properties that make them attractive or repulsive. What more do you need to take them out?
If it wasn’t already obvious, I’m taking every potential for a chemistry pun that I can find, both because I find it hilarious but also because that was essentially the only plan I had for the set. It is therefore probably no surprise that my preparation for mainly involved searching up as many stupidly named molecules as possible – thank you Wikipedia for the incredible source that is ‘List of chemical compounds with unusual names‘. It was a treasure trove for this set. From there it was just the case of building out the profiles with a structure, full chemical name and some chemical information, and hey presto, I had a set!
The hardest part was trying to draw and simultaneously say the names of some of the molecules. As I said, in no uncertain terms, throughout the set, I am not an organic chemist. Their trade relies on clear communication of molecules via their names or their drawn structures to ensure that people know which of the millions of molecules in the world they are referring to. My scrawls on both counts were clearly not legible, so I knew I was painting a very large bullseye over my head. I took the risk, but wanted to share a disclaimer to ensure I did not unnecessarily lose my atoms and molecules in back alley brawls with my fellow organic chemists in future.
I appreciate that many people would prefer to eat ants than do a comedy set. I felt the same until I tried it. The fact is that you are being set up to succeed. The team supports you the whole way through, from great training right through to cheerleading on the night. It is also entertaining to think that the random things you giggled at in the middle of a long day of experiments in the lab could actually become something. That these nuclei of ideas could actually attract enough friends to create a new atom/molecule (literally in the case of Bonder) feels pretty awesome, even if it is ten years later. There are always things you would change or do differently when you see yourself doing something like this. In rewatching the set, I know there are molecules I would swap in because I think they would be more fun, or that I would work a bit more on timing or tweak the story. But none of these are things that would make me undo my set. A chemical reaction is never wrong, just maybe not the one you had planned or expected!