Robin Ince: Bringing a joyful, secular Christmas this Easter

Comedian and writer Robin Ince

Comedian and writer Robin Ince - Credit: Cosmic Shambles Network and Natalie Shaw

"One of the things that I found fascinating during lockdown was I quite often got headaches, and then I found that as long as I created something, the headache would go."

Pandemic or no pandemic, Comedian, writer and presenter Robin Ince is a man who never stops working. But one of the many knock-on effects of Covid is that his annual(ish) secular Christmas revue will now be staged at Easter. 

Nine Lessons and Carols For Curious People runs over two nights at Kings Place in King's Cross, and will feature the usual mix of entertainment and big brain thinking from scientists, comedians and musicians.

With names including Matt Parker, comedians Deborah Frances-White and Joanna Neary, Natural History Museum curator Miranda Lowe, physicists Dr Mark Richards and Dr Helen Czerski, musicians Femi & Marco and Jim Bob, mathematicians Bobby Seagull and Nira Chamberlain, astrophysicists Professor Lucie Green and Professor Chris Lintott, physicist Dr Jessica Wade, singer-songwriter Ruarri Joseph, and classicist Natalie Haynes, the bill is as eclectic as Robin’s mind.

Ince's double act with physicist and presenter Professor Brian Cox has seen their hit radio show The Infinite Monkey Cage lead to arena tours with science heralded as the new rock’n’roll. But the Prof Brian collaboration is just the tip of the Inceberg. He has worked with Ricky Gervais, Josie Long, Michael Legg and Dr Helen Czerski among others.

Comedian Josie Long

Comedian Josie Long - Credit: Cosmic Shambles Network and Natalie Shaw

Live shows include Book Club events (there’s a Book book on the way) and the first Nine Lessons and Carols event came in 2008. 

It was at a time when Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion had become a phenomenon and successful books followed from Daniel Dennett and Christopher Hitchens in the "atheist boom".

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Ince found himself on a television panel being accused over and over again of trying to ban Christmas.

"It didn't matter what I said. I got so bored of this image that the atheist was some kind of Scrooge figure that I thought, well, what I put on this Christmas is a really celebratory show and I'll call it Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People, which is the original title it had."

Science writer Ginny Smith

Science writer Ginny Smith - Credit: Cosmic Shambles Network and Natalie Shaw

Guests such as Jarvis Cocker and Billy Bragg brought in a crowd who may not have otherwise come to see scientists and academics on stage. 

"Some people who are atheists said one of the things they missed was different forms of celebration – just this idea of having a celebratory night. So that was kind of the starting point and then it just got bigger and bigger and we would, you know, sometimes do 12 nights over Christmas – and then I took a bit of a break."

When he returned, there was a change of name, as times moved on.

"The reason it was called Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People was very much from an event that happened in 2007, and I wouldn't want to feel that people were excluded because they had religion.

"There are lots of religious people I know have no problem with the big bang theory, have no problem with the theory of evolution – all of these things.

"In fact, the biggest problem they have often is with God. You know, that's where their doubt is really wrestling, interestingly, and that includes members of the General Synod that I know. 

"And so I thought, let's call it Nine Lessons and Carols for Curious People."

Physicist Helen Czerski

Physicist Helen Czerski - Credit: Cosmic Shambles Network and Natalie Shaw

The two shows at Kings Place are far from the only chance to catch Ince this year though. There's the new book, a world tour with Brian Cox is on the way, and the Book Shambles podcast with Josie Long continues. There may even be a return of the Vitriola music podcast with Michael Legg, which went on hiatus during the lockdowns.

"One of the things that I found fascinating during lockdown was I quite often got headaches, and then I found that as long as I created something, the headache would go, literally. It feels like a very physical thing. If I've got lots of ideas and they're all just caged in my attic, it eventually just creates a pressure headache, but as long as there's some kind of podcast that I can make, or live show, or book, whatever it is...

"So I apologise for all of those who've had to suffer the podcasts and books. They are a medical necessity for me."

Tickets for Nine Lessons from www.kingsplace.co.uk/whats-on/nine-lessons-and-carols-for-curious-people/

To hear the full interview, listen and subscribe for free to the full podcast via https://podfollow.com/hamhigh/.

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