Radio National’s new science-themed comedy quiz show The Pop Test seems perfectly designed for the golden age of audio content we’re supposedly living through. It’s putting a different spin on niche-interest topics, it features interesting people you haven’t heard of (some scientists), and there are some entertaining people you have heard of as well (comedians). Throw in some rounds of questions on that week’s theme and an arbitrary scoring system, and what’s not to like?
Well, the science bit for one. Look, if you’re interested in science maybe there’s something here for you, but if you decided to listen because Shaun Micallef or Dilruk Jayasinha or Alice Fraser or even Norman Swan is on – and you’re expecting comedy gold – well, they’ve all been in funnier shows. Especially Norman Swan.
The BBC show The Infinite Monkey Cage, which is surely an influence on The Pop Test, does a better job of mixing comedy and science because it puts the emphasis on science, using comedians who know a bit about science and can be funny about it to lighten the mood between largely-serious segments involving Professors and researchers. On The Pop Test, though, the format – which can only work if all panellists can be both interesting and funny about science – limits the comedians to trying to improvise funny answers to serious questions about science, because they don’t know about science, and limits the scientists to being serious about the science because they don’t know how to be funny.
You remember us banging on about how Australian comedy producers always screw up by limiting the scope of the comedy that can be done in their shows? Well, here we go again!
And maybe if ABC Radio made a comedy show more often than once every five, then these kinds of mistakes wouldn’t be made. Maybe.
Science is the kind of topic that broadcasters like Radio National are always going to want to make shows about, and fair enough too, there is an audience for this kind of thing. The problem is, this is a show which probably isn’t science-y enough for science nerds, but also isn’t going to work for the wider audience who likes comedy because it’s not funny enough.
On the plus side, Dr Karl Kruszelnicki isn’t anywhere to be heard on this program. So that’s two bonus points to team Pop Test.