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Interview: Timranda Harkness


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Timandra Harkness has been many things in her life. Journalist. Clown. But now she seems to have found her niche in science comedy. Currently touring her new stand up show BrainSex, she took the time to talk to us over the phone.

Describing her most recent gig, she tells us: “We kicked off in Northern Ireland. Bit eventful; we had a bit of a travel hiccup. We had a flight booked on EasyJet. But apparently having a flight booked is no guarantee on getting on the flight.”

“They had to set up everything without me,” exclaims Timandra.“We had to text in ‘These props go here, these props go here’”.

Any technical problems would have been pretty serious, as Timandra’s shows (which include songs, live experiments, video clips and a gameshow) are heavy on the equipment. Why all the variety?

“I’m very mindful that asking an audience to look at the same person for, well its two hours with the interval, is quite a lot,” she explains. To keep the audience’s interest, Timandra deploys “A lot of props, a really excessive number of costume changes and a live rat.”

The live rat, Socrates to his many adoring fans, may even have a brighter future that Timandra.

“Gallingly he’s far more popular than me” she jokes, “The Welcome Trust [who funded Timandra’s two most recent shows] came to see me in Edinburgh. And they just wanted to see the rat.”

Whether or not she is upstaged by her rodent companion, Timranda need not worry that she isn’t popular. Her last two shows, Your Days Are Numbered (a show about “The Maths Of Death”) and BrainSex, have been hits.

Talking about Your Days Are Numbered, her first Edinburgh stand up show about science, Timranda says: “It was a kind of surprise hit. It was on at 11:30 in the morning in quite a big venue. I think we pulled in an average of 100.6 people, which is 93 more than most Fringe shows. We were quite startled because we thought the term ‘Maths’ would put people off.”

Perhaps the reason the terms ‘Maths’ and ‘Science’ haven’t put people off is that Harkness makes a special effort to ensure her material is accessible to anyone. “I deliberately set out the show so that you don’t have to feel like you have to have a GCSE in science to enjoy it,” Timandra explains. “I’m not a scientist. I’m studying maths now out of interest. But my attitude is that if I can get enjoyment out of it, anyone can.”

Continuing, Timranda claims: “It’s a show. You shouldn’t have to do homework. You should just be able to enjoy it.”

She adds: “We’re all human beings. We all have brains. We all have the experience. The idea is that it’s thought provoking, but it’s not worthy. It’s not trying to make you a better person.

“It’s meant to be fun. The most important thing is that you have a good time. Probably you’ll leave thinking that you’re cleverer than the performer.

 “I started off doing circus. And I wasn’t really any good. I did Trapeze (I did drop my Trapeze once, she was very nice about it). But people did laugh when I tried to get a laugh. So I went to clowning, then I went to Improv, then I went to stand up.”

After breaking into the comedy circuit, Timandra bumped into a stand up colleague, who it turned out was a scientist by day, and formed a double act with her.

“We were bored of doing jokes about drinking and drugs and the differences between men and women,” she says.“ Ironically, I’ve now come full circle and am talking aboutand the differences between men and women”.

She was referring to her new show, BrainSex, which is about the differences in the ways men and women think. Harkness claims the idea of making this into a show came from two sources. One was her taking part in The Battle of Ideas. “The more frivolous side is that my mum always tells me ‘You think like a bloke’. The funny thing is that when I did some of the psychological tests I turn up just like a bloke; so she’s right.”

 Whatever inspired her latest show, we’re just glad something did.                                   

Info on Timranda Harkness’ new show can be found here:

Timandra is touring through March and April, next appearing at The Plough Arts Centre in Great Torrington.

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