CAN you have a scientific sense of humour? Stand-up Robin Ince, who has just shared an arena stage tour with poster boy of serious stuff Professor Brian Cox, feels that it “kind of does work”.

On the eve of bringing his own show to Barnard Castle, on September 23, Ince should know having seen a live version based on the BBC Radio 4 programme The Infinite Monkey Cage pack out 70 appearances.

“Sometimes people can be very literal and sometimes, with scientific ideas, you have to make them as accurate as possible and people can get a little cross if you totally misinterpret the mechanics of an idea. Coming from someone who is quite ignorant and merely learning, it gives you a huge amount of material because the universe is filled with bizarre things that behave in ways we don’t expect,” says Ince.

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“Whether it’s the bonobo ape trying hats on its head or the fact the whole universe can fit in nothing - once it was the size of a melon, but now it’s billions of galaxies. So all these things are fun to play around with. It’s an exercise for me to try and offer some understanding and my stand-up is to excite people about these different ideas.”

His latest tour, called Pragmatic Insanity, involves Ince chatting about art as well as science. “Barnard Castle is a fantastic place to talk about art because of the Bowes Museum collection. I’ll also be talking about Brian Cox and a little about politics as well. Compared to some of my shows there’s less science than normal. I last visited the museum about three years ago and there was a fantastic exhibition of Gerald Scarfe’s pictures, including some of Margaret Thatcher. The last time I saw the mechanical swan it was actually at the London Science Museum because it was doing a little bit of travelling around.”

The Swan’s appearance at the capital’s display of robotic history nearly came to grief when it didn’t work until the last moment. “Well you take a mechanical swan out of its own home it can feel very embarrassed and self-aware,” Ince jokes.

He started mixing together comedy nights of music, art and science about 15 years ago. “I thought that very often audiences are much smarter than a lot of the mass media think. As long as you deliver something in an interesting way, you can entice them without having to dumb down. About 11 years ago I mixed science with music and comedy at Hammersmith and I did that before starting working with Brian.

“He’s famous in a bizarre way because he’s a particle physicist and promoters realised that shows involving science and comedy could sell out very large ideas... even if you’re offering very complex ideas. Therefore, when we did the arena tour, Brian confounds them and just as we hear their brains begin to crack I come on and do stupid voices and impersonations of Brian Blessed. Everyone then relaxes for a while and when we feel they’re ready for more science, I walk off stage again,” says Ince.

He felt that this kind of comedy would work on a big scale, “but if you told me eight years ago we’d sell out Wembley Arena I’d have said, ‘Well I think that would be pushing it a little bit’. It’s a really exciting thing to watch all these people listening to some quite deep ideas of how our universe is as it is. So many of us finish school and you think that you stop learning apart from a hobby interest. I’m very fortunate that I can do a show about something and end up finding myself standing by the Lovell Telescope (in Cheshire) on a cold autumn morning which has collected fascinating information. Or I go on stage and talk to four or five astronauts, one of whom has actually stood on the moon. It is also an exciting way to make a living.”

Ince feels that stand-ups like him should never think about ‘is there a market?’ it is more, ‘What do I want to do?’. “You will find somewhere out there an audience that don’t want to hear the same old things every night. They want to hear about bigger ideas as well.”

He admits that the Infinite Monkey Cage creators are hoping to visit South Africa’s Rift Valley for the series’ 100th programme. “It is our dream to go out live from the beginning of our ancestors. We’ve also got a book coming out and there’s a panic going on because it’s due out in October. It’s a kind of Look and Learn version which is friendly for children and adults with all of the modern technology you can use to illustrate the book and its ideas. We’ve just got to a chapter on the apocalypse... a hopeful chapter of it not being the end of the world, but the end of the universe. And you want Brian to be one of the four horsemen because he’s always got such a nice smile on his face.”

Asked about Professor Cox’s sense of humour, Ince confesses that the only time the two argue is when it comes to equations. “The only argument we have about jokes is, ‘Is it funny enough?’ We are friends and have toured the US and Australia and never had a falling out. The last time was over simulation theory – is the universe a simulation? - and had a lot of trouble over the equations used for it. Our rows are over science, never ego.”

So have we finished up where we started?

Tour dates: Sept 23, Funny Way To Be, Witham, Barnard Castle. Box Office: 0844-884-2920 or funnywaytobe.com; Oct 9, The Crescent, York; ents24.com; March 18, The Stand, Newcastle.