From Science to Stand-Up

ResearcHers Code
Apr 16 · 4 min read

Bea Costa Gomes is a final year PhD student at the University of Manchester and an Enrichment Student at the Alan Turing Institute in London. She is developing machine learning software to analyse pathologies in the brain. But when she is not writing code, Bea performs stand-up comedy.

Tell us a bit about yourself

Hi! I’m Bea, or as my parents call me: the accident. See, this is my opening line and to be honest my only one liner on my sets! I’m a PhD student, doing Software Development and Image Analysis to study neurodegenerative diseases. A lot of words to say that I code while looking at pretty brain cells! I read a lot, I stress-bake and I am the self-proclaimed pun-isher. I also do stand-up comedy.

How did you get into stand-up comedy?

I’ve always been a storyteller, and I really enjoy making people smile. So, about a year ago I had three different people from three different parts of my life tell me I should attempt to do stand-up. Now, if it had been only one, I wouldn’t even consider it. But three, at a coincidentally close time from each other? Definitely the works of a movie script so I decided to give it a try!

I started with baby steps, attended some Improv workshops and was working on a script. But, to be honest, given I had never done anything like this before, I absolutely sucked at it so I pushed it to the side.

Until one of my closest friends, who was in the organising committee of Postdoc Appreciation Week 2019, was getting the line up for the main event and was looking for lighter acts to appreciate postdocs. I jokingly (at first) volunteered to which she said “Yes! That would be great!”… and there I was. My first stand-up gig.

What do you enjoy about stand-up?

I absolutely love making people laugh. When I’m with a friend, or a group of friends, I always try to make people smile with my horrible puns and jokes. Even if I amuse myself, I end up infecting people with my own laughter. I am definitely not as funny as I think I am!

But I’ll let you know a bigger secret. When I get on stage and start a gig, it’s one of the few times where my anxiety dissipates. I call it Performance Bea: I look confident, and I relax. It sounds absolutely counter intuitive, doesn’t it? But it’s true! I get on stage and push aside all the negative voices inside my head and it’s just me, making a group of people laugh. No anxiety, no depression, no other mental illnesses that I have.

How have you benefited professionally and personally from doing stand-up?

I think the biggest benefit, personally, was that I made friends that I don’t think I would’ve otherwise. It’s also a great ice breaker when meeting someone new! But I do get tired of being asked for a joke, given that I don’t have a lot of one-liners.

Professionally, it gave me more confidence for public speaking in general, and I did make some networking connections that I also wouldn’t have otherwise.

How does this compare to public speaking at conferences?

That’s a good question. It’s very different! I keep hearing how much more courage I need to do stand-up but I have to admit that I’m much more nervous about conference speaking. The reason is simple… at a conference the audience gets to ask questions about what you just presented! With stand-up, you can get hecklers but you can literally tell them to just eff off, which we all sometimes wish we could say at conferences… But after a while, everything just normalises and you learn to improvise, which is a great skill, and it works for both.

What advice would you give to someone who gets nervous doing public speaking?

This is going to sound like the biggest cliché, but: take a big deep breath, or about seven million of them, however many you need, before getting on stage. Truth is, people are there to listen to you, and want to hear what you have to say, and no one is actively rooting for you to fail (even if your brain is trying to convince you otherwise).

More practical advice: make a script but memorise only your first sentence. The rest will start to flow! This means that if you forget a word later on, you won’t stress because the truth is that you know the idea of what you want to say.

And the more you do it, the easier it gets.

What resources or workshops are available for those interested in doing stand-up?

I have found that there are a lot of workshops, but do attend the ones on script writing and how to make the most out of a story because that’s your key point! And practice with your friends, they will be the most critical and they know you and your stories, so they will help out! But keep in mind that this is your story so take their input with a massive grain of salt and ignore 99% of it.

Also, look for comedy virgin nights in pubs and when you have a set, go to them and practice, practice, practice!

Watch Bea’s Postdoc Appreciation Stand-up gig and find her other videos on Twitter @mooniean

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