Entering the third season, the BBC Radio 4 series, It is Rocket Science! is a delightful four-parter that is both captivatingly hilarious and wittily informative. Keen has acquired a mass of accolades since her beginnings in the comedy world and the marriage of science and wit has been a triumph to her in this respect. In 2008, after already winning the first Channel 4 New Comedy Writing Initiative award with co-writer Miriam Underhill (2005) and being a finalist in the UK Funny Women stand-up competition (2005) and the Hackney Empire New Act of the Year title (2006), Keen performed her first solo show It is Rocket Science! at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and at Buxton Festival Fringe (where it was nominated as Best Show and she won the Best Individual Performer award).
As with Keen’s shows that followed (The Primitive Methodist Guide to Artic Survival and Robot Woman of Tomorrow) It is Rocket Science! was not only performed at comedy festivals but also science fairs/expos. The apparently niche market for science-comedy may not have been so restrictive – in fact, wrapping up interesting science facts in a hilarious science fiction, of sorts, makes the world of space-travel even more inviting. Helen then brought her combination to the media of radio and it works brilliantly.
In 2011 along with co-writer Miriam Underhill, producer Gareth Edwards (That Mitchell and Webb Look), multi-talented Susy Kane (Gavin & Stacey, Extras, IT Crowd) and the ridiculously gifted Peter Serafinowicz (Shaun of the Dead, Look Around You) the once solo show made its debut on BBC Radio 4. As they put it, it is a low-budget, highly subjective look at the history and future of space travel.
With the help of her robotic companion (sophisticated electronic narrating machine), The Voice of Space (Serafinowicz), Helen Keen delves into the space race, the invention of the rocket and its creators and moves through interstellar travel and beyond. The sheer talent and comedy timing of Serafinowicz is something I have been a huge fan of for a long time now and his inclusion in the radio show brings Keen’s informative hilarity to life. The episodes are recorded in front of a live studio audience and they give the whole programme a warm and involved sense.
Keen is no stranger to the radio mix of science and humor as she has guested on the terrific The Infinity Monkey Cage series. Hosted by Professor Brian Cox and comedian Robin Ince, they have leaped through space-time and comedy-timing with fantastic guests such as Professor Richard Dawkins, Stephen Fry, Alan Moore, Ben Goldacre, Sir Patrick Stewart and Dara O’Briain. It is definitely worth checking out and can be streamed here.
Keen accepted the WISE (Women In Science and Engineering) media award in 2013 for ‘the highly imaginative use of stand-up comedy to bring stories of female scientists to a non-specialist audience’ in their show. Keen also hosted the first Comedy Night at the CERN lab in August 2013, the show proved to be CERN’s most successful webcast since the discovery of the Higgs boson there, and was followed from 105 countries by nearly 10,000 browsers.
It seems Keen and her scientific-comedy-informational-sketch-show is only going from strength to strength and with this season of the show delving into the opportunities of the colonization of Mars, UFO’s and the possible multiverse we live in, we can expect more wondrous tales of space-travel of old and of near future.
Tune into BBC Radio 4 on Wednesday April 2nd at 11pm for the first episode of Season 3 – you will be oooniversally delighted.
To stream BBC Radio 4 online please click here
For those in need of the sci-comedy experience right away; here is a recording of Series 1 Episode 1.