“I LIKE sports a bit too much, but then again I do have a computer science degree.” Neil Delamere is debating whether or not he can be considered a nerd.
“What really classifies you as a nerd anyway? I think you have to like superheroes, and be bad with the opposite sex; I’m very happily married and I’m not that keen on sci-fi or superheroes, so I’ll say no, I’m not a nerd. I do really enjoy science, though, so maybe some people wouldn’t agree.”
Delamere, the host of RTÉ’s new science-comedy panel show Eureka! The Big Bang Query, certainly got to indulge his innate curiosity and decidedly un-nerdy love of science during filming for the series, shooting sequences in locations around the world where he risked life and limb to illustrate scientific principles. “It was amazing craic,” he says.
At the Polish Air Force Institute of Aviation Medicine, Delamere got in a centrifuge to experience what five times the force of gravity feels like. “They call it the vomit comet for a reason, let me tell you,” he says. “Up around 5g’s you get pretty nauseous and your jaw can’t open; you actually can’t get your top teeth off your bottom teeth.”
Bobsledding, zero-gravity flights and freediving into deserted quarries certainly don’t seem so nerdy, and Delamere seems to have taken them all in his stride, with the exception of one sequence where he had to face his fear of heights. “We went to the world’s largest radio telescope in Puerto Rico and we had to walk across a gangplank 600 feet above the dish. I hated every second of that. It was a great privilege and everything but let me tell you I didn’t enjoy it at all.”
Fusions of comedy and science seem to be an ever-increasingly popular sub-genre and fit in well with Delamere’s brand of humour; many of his shows, both televised and live, see him take a factual departure point for his comedy, such as his Viking heritage or the history of St Patrick.
On Eureka! The Big Bang Query, two panels headed up by comedian PJ Gallagher and polymath broadcaster Aoibheann ní Shuilleabháin pit comedians and eminent scientists against each other to hilarious effect, Delamere says, chuckling as he describes one of his most surprising Eureka moments:
“I had no idea that scientists were so territorial. As comedians, we thought we were bad but we’re nothing compared to how competitive scientists are. It was hilarious, at one point we had physicists and biologists eight-miling each other in a bizarre Eminem-style take-down of each other’s disciplines.”
Human inquisitiveness can reach some pretty disgusting places, and finding out what cheese made from the bacteria of team captains Gallagher and Ní Shuileabháin tastes like sounds absolutely stomach-churning, but Delamere says they were up to the challenge: “When I presented the cheese to PJ and Aoibheann I thought there’d be some degree of reticence, but they approached the task in hand with a remarkable and scientific rigour.”
With two TV shows on the go (Delamere also hosts BBC Northern Ireland’s Blame Game, the radio version of which is nominated for a Celtic Media award), a live tour and his Today FM radio show just about to hit its first anniversary, it’s enthusiasm that drives Delamere. “It’s all go but I’m notcomplaining; I believe the rule is to enjoy it all; if you ever phone it in you’re banjaxed because your audience can tell.”
To unwind, Delamere plays indoor football regularly; he says it keeps him sane. “Well, I call it indoor football but I’m not sure other people would class me running around an astro-turf pitch with a bunch of people far more skilled than me as indoor football. But I’m enthusiastic. I’m not skillful, not fit, not flexible, not fast, not committed, but just enjoying it. Enthusiastic.”