Matt Parker and Timandra Harkness put on an extremely well constructed show. There are a few (very small) problems with that, but perhaps only for those sensitive to set-ups. When the audience participation gets a little to independent, there’s anxiety: will they manage to bring out the punch lines of the planned brick jokes at the right minute?
The nominal thesis of the show is the calculation of your personal chances of death at any given time, in any given way, using a unit of risk measurement called the micromort: a one-in-a-million chance of dying. Taking a tab of ecstasy and smoking a single cigarette, for instance, both carry a risk of one micromort. In the UK, dying by shark attack and as the result of a tea cozy incident carry the same risk: zero micromorts. A glass of wine or a breakfast fry-up, well…that’s more complicated. Chronic alcoholism certainly shortens one’s life, but moderate drinking (whatever that may be for any individual) is actually linked to a lower risk of heart attacks. And, all factors considered, it’s actually healthier for most people to be a little overweight (again, whatever that is person to person) than a little underweight (likewise).
At this point, an overweight man in front of us yelped, “Has that sample been controlled for people who’ve lost weight due to cancer treatment?”
“Yes!” Harkness replied immediately, and continued, “We have the best hecklers of any Fringe show: ‘So’s your control group!'”
A running gag is the treatment of the audience as a sample group, treating each minute of the show as a year with all of us born as it started, with Parker doing his math-genius thing of calculating the percentages for a 146-member audience on the fly. At 65 minutes, most of us were lucky: only one in ten UK resident will die before that age, so only the front row had stickers on their forehead declaring them “DEAD.” After that, though, there was the expected steep drop-off, which somehow culminated in a mock shark attack, then a song about the point of life being what goes on underneath all the calculations, ending on a cheery note.
My grandmother died a few days before the show. We’d bought our tickets earlier that week, so it wasn’t as if we chose to be morbid, but we did nearly have second thoughts about attending. It’s a testament to the show’s warm silliness that I left it feeling better about the mysteries of life, death, the universe, and everything.