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Robin Ince: “I’ve just realised what I should have done my TED talk on”

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Late in January, Robin Ince tweeted:

balls, 7 months too late I’ve just realised what i should have done my TED talk on

So the TED Blog asked: What?

And here is what he wrote:

Every year I attempt to say yes to things that are out of my comfort zone. These are never physical things such as parachute jumps or mountain climbs — I am not so keen on actual death, I am happy to make do with the death of my own self-regard. A TED talk was one of those leaps into abject terror I made in 2011. I had admired these talks for some time and frequently fallen into bouts of voluntary insomnia playing TED talk tag until dawn.

My mistake was that I had never watched the funny ones. I didn’t even know that they existed. So I spent my first month of preparation for TED mulling over how I could create the illusion of being smart. This has been made even more difficult now you are no longer allowed to smoke a pipe onstage, a surefire device to create the illusion of thoughtfulness as successive British Prime Ministers demonstrated.

About a week beforehand I suddenly realized I had gone in totally the wrong direction. I had been asked for to provide levity, not compete with people who were clearly qualified to talk of astrophysics and the evolution of empathy. The wastepaper basket was rapidly filled and a new notebook opened. I gathered together some words on whether it was possible to be happy if approaching the world scientifically. In 8 minutes I hoped to cover love, death and the strong anthropic principle. As it was, I had to drop the strong anthropic principle due to time constraints. It appears that love and death take up more of your allotted eight minutes than you might imagine.

The night before my morning session (“morning session” is a term that strikes terror into the hearts of the predominantly nocturnal comedian), I sat alone in the hotel bar, scribbling and re-scribbling until I had nervously chewed all the ink from the pen.

The blessed relief of not overrunning, and saying most of what I had planned, meant I didn’t start mulling over the talk until I was on the train home. But by the time I walked through the door I had demolished all I had said and, as so often on these occasions, the clear picture I had wanted to see in the buildup only became transparent in the aftermath. To attempt eight minutes summing up happiness through science was preposterous. I now knew the TED talk I should have done, which was about the daily problems I face of attempting to write comedy routines about contemporary physics which both I and a reasonably broad comedy club audience can understand. A world of quark-based conundrums and neutrino dilemmas flooded my mind with a revelation at 7 minutes 34 seconds, which would have been like opening a box and a cat leaping onto your lap.

There is not time for regret — actually that’s not true; if you read French literature you’ll find it can occupy your life. Nevertheless I can’t look back too much and wish I had done something else. The process of terror was in itself fascinating, and I got the chance to enjoy coffees from around the world while listening to speakers who hotwired my mind (coffee and hotwired minds is a stimulating mix). And thanks to Hugh Everett and the many-worlds interpretation, I can be safe in the knowledge that in another world I did deliver the speech I wished I had, and also safe in the knowledge that in that other world I walked off and wished I had attempted something about happiness through science.

— Robin Ince

Watch his TEDTalk, which is really very funny >>