Andy Rouse at the O2?

A couple of decades ago, the spiritual home of stand-up comedy was arguably the working mens clubs of the industrial north. Sure a few of the top artists made it to TV spots but the thought of Michael McIntyre, John Bishop or Lee Evans filling an arena, historically the preserve of headline music acts, was at best, far-fetched. Stand-up comedy has broken new ground, broken new records and broken new audiences. The same needs to be done for nature.

Spring/Autumnwatch goes some way towards bridging the gap between science and a mainstream audience, but does it reach beyond Middle-class, Middle age, Middle England? Possibly yes, but it’s a two-dimensional platform.

The other night I finally got around to going to an Andy Rouse talk in Warrington. By a quirk of fate I was passing through (no disrespect to Warrington but this is not an everyday occurrence). The hall was packed and encouragingly, a generous splattering of young couples were present – the sort that might go and see Michael McIntyre at the O2. Now I’ve know Andy a fair few years but I’d never seen him speak in this context, so I was intrigued, not so much by the show he put on, but by the reaction of the audience to his rather ‘non-conformist’ style. I’ve got to say I winced a tad at some aspects of his approach, but the crowd were taken along, not on an evening of natural history, but on an evening of entertainment. Yes entertainment. Even nature-lovers like to be entertained!

I dare say the real purists would have recoiled at the occasional sexual innuendo and the anthropomorphic interpretation of some of his images, but the purists are not the ones who need convincing. Andy entertained first and educated as a consequence; it’s much more difficult to pull that off the other way around and my hat goes off to him for that.

Whether you agree with the Rouse approach or not, there is no question over his passion, drive and photographic ability. Factor in that rare resource amongst nature photographers, humour, and it’s an entertaining combination. I’m not sure he’s ready for the O2 just yet but I’m sure someone once said that to Michael McIntyre. I for one, would like to see more Andy Rouse’s sticking their head above that very serious and often painfully tedious parapet, that is traditional nature photography. Andy has fun and so does his audience. Job done.

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13 thoughts on “Andy Rouse at the O2?

  1. I agree with you that a change from the standard presentations is more than welcome especially to engage a normal audience and us photographers as well. I have never seen Andy speak since there is a body of water between us, but maybe that will change one day.

  2. I have never seen Andy Rouse “live” so I can’t comment on his performance but I imagine it is a pretty difficult balancing act. Unlike stand up comedy nature photography has a serious background and the nature photographer in general has a “higher” purpose than just to entertain people. There is also the question what nature photography live shows are about: Is it about nature photography and conservation issues or about the person? It’s a fine line and a X-Factor superstar cult and nature photography doesn’t really mix. Or maybe I am wrong and serving the idol loving crowd is the future for nature photography and we will find David Noton and Andy Rouse on the the cover of “Hello” magazine more often.

  3. So we have Johnny Mac’s “conversation photographer” and now it’s the “entertainment photographer” – hey, why not. It’s not the already converted who need the message, it’s the good old public at large whose view of wildlife seems to be that it’s fluffy & cute at best and a pest to be eliminated at worst. For the first time, recently, I also watched an Andy performance – not my favoured style, but unmistakably enthusiastic and certainly memorable. But the O2? Nah, transport from there is a nightmare!

  4. Like you both say, Andy is not to everyones taste, but he certainly provokes a reaction and gets you thinking. I’ve been to see a couple of his shows when he’s been around my neck of the woods over the years. Each time I’ve been, the auditoriums have been full, with a good buzz of expectation.

    It’s worth listening to people talking on the way out – as well as the more obvious comments of, “great images”, a lot of people seem to be having their eyes opened to the world at large. There are a lot of, “well I never knew that” and “I never realized so and so was going on.”

    Love him or hate him, I take my hat off to Andy in this regard, He’s spreading the word, through his shows and people are turning out to see and listen.

    Not sure I’d compare him to a Michael MacIntyre in his style of presentation…….maybe more of a Jim Davidson at times!! LOL

  5. There’s too many nature photographers think nature photography is just about nature. Its not. Its about people.

    Unless you, the photographer, only want to stick your pictures in a computer, draw the curtains and entertain yourself with them, then I’d suggest you’re immediately a ‘conversation photographer’. You take pictures, you share them, use them to communicate with.

    Pete draws an appropriate comparison – humour works for many reasons and on many levels, but first and foremost good humour, and I mean really good humour, works because we can relate to something in the subject matter. We ‘know’ what the comedian talks about and the laughs often come from the unexpected conclusion, rather than the ‘expected’ conclusion we were led to believe was coming.

    But the comedian only knows what to pitch, and how to pitch it, by first undertanding his audience. Lobbing in jokes about Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle to a non-science audience will see your efforts fall flat on its face. Communication is only going to happen if you ‘read’ your audience, pitch your stuff appropriately and take them on a roller coaster ride that plays to their knowledge, understanding, or even ignorance of a subject (the latter is very difficult, but some comedians can do it).

    Carsten’s comment: “Unlike stand up comedy nature photography has a serious background and the nature photographer in general has a “higher” purpose than just to entertain people.”

    I disagree. They share a common background and a common purpose – to explore issues that people may or may not have thought about, or not considered in a certain way. Comedy is not just about laughing, its about understanding the complex ways people relate to the world, and to each other, and the natural stuff that surrounds us, and celebrating that relationship.

    If you want to read about humour hunt down a copy of Arthur Koestler’s ‘The Act of Creation’ which provided me with many insights into the origins, role and purpose of humour (within the range of our wider creative abilities).

    Andy Rouse’s anthropomorphic comments are bang on for me. Communication takes many forms, but when it works, it works.

    And the Heisenberg joke is:

    Heisenberg is out for a drive when he’s stopped by a traffic cop.
    The cop says, “Do you know how fast you were going?”
    Heisenberg says, “No, but I know where I am.”

  6. John Macpherson, you take a good photo, tell an even better story and on top of that seem to be one “smart dude”. That was nicely put.

    I did a bit of phsychology a few years ago and from what I remember, we learn things by being able to relate them to what we’re already familiar with. So a good educator is one who is able to express the unfamiliar in terms of the familiar.

    I’m sure this is a very simple view of it, but it doesn’t seem so far removed from what you’re saying. Especially the anthropomorphism, we can all recognise certain behaviour and broadly functions, so it seems natural to use that to make a connection with something we might not be so familiar with.

    Thanks for sharing.

    I don’t get the Heisenberg joke btw, was he the one who said you can’t measure something without affecting the result?

  7. Thanks Stefan.

    Re the joke – you’re close.

    Its a quantum mechanics thing.

    Basically, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that there is a fundamental limit on the accuracy with which certain pairs of physical properties of a particle, such as position and momentum, can be simultaneously known.

    In other words, the more precisely one property is measured eg the speed, the less precisely the other can be controlled, determined, or known.

    So in the joke, if the subject doesn’t know how fast he was going he WILL know where he is. The joke of course is that he knows where he is because he’s been ‘stopped’ for speeding.

    If you want to read an entertaining and accessible book on quantum stuff I can recommend John Gribbin’s volume ‘Schrodingers Kittens and the Search for Reality’. Its a really good read, and its heartening to see a scientist use exclamation marks!

    If you do photography you work with light, and quantum mechanics opens the lid a fraction on the box of weirdness that is the behaviour of light, and getting through Chapters 1 and 2 of Gribbins book will both delight and surprise you.

  8. From Andy Rouse to quantum mechanics… now THAT’s communication! Maybe wave-particle duality explains the blurry look of most of my shots. Now, I wonder if the wildcat I put in that box is still alive…

  9. I’m planning on coming along to your little chat-et at Havant Camera Club next week, so for the sake of my poor head, can I request you keep the quantum mechanics, deep thinking philosophies and other such stuff to a minimum and pump up the comedy and sexy images please, Mr Cairns!!!

  10. I have always felt that, if you expect people to come and listen to you when you give any sort of presentation there is an obligation to entertain and inform – whether people have paid or not.

    Those who feel they are doing audience a favour merely by being there get found out – it takes time and imagination to create a presentation that is paced and has a balance of the serious and the humorous.

    Andy Rouse performs in a way that suits his outgoing personality – he does it his way and anyone trying to emulate that would probably not pull it off: if you try to portray something you are not that at ease and it comes over. But it clearly works for him and that is what is important – getting the message across is what matters and any of us who stand up and perform (and I use that word intentionally for it should be a performance!) have to find a balance that suits us.

    Not everyone can do ‘filth’ and innuendo – it can sound sleazy coming from some people and natural from others… I find. You can live down to expectations. It depends on the subject and on not making it obvious with scatological language. I have found over the years that, when giving talks on orchids and their biology, particularly pollination one can get away with murder (and with very rude shots of little orchid figures) just by using the correct scientific terminology … filth is in the mind of the beholder: as a kid I could perceive innuendo at 400 paces on a misty night and nothing changes.

    As the great American Philosopher Tom Lehrer sang “Smut, give me smut and nothing but… a dirty novel I can’t shut if it’s uncut and un-subt –le”

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