This review was originally published on COSMOS Online.
For the uninitiated, the opening number of Keira Daley’s Ladynerd neatly defined nerdiness as an enthusiasm for one’s obsessions that often comes at the expense of fashion sense.
Even if you missed the opening number, the mention in the first five minutes of the Venn diagram of nerdiness and negativity, with self-loathing as the intersection, just might give away that this is no ordinary comedy show.
Daley’s definition of nerdiness is broad; it includes science, Shakespeare, video games, tech, pop culture and grammar. But as the name suggests, the focus of the show is the often-disregarded female nerd. To do this, Daley uses song (with back-up and keyboardist Mark Chamberlain), mile-a-minute one-liners and physical comedy to take the audience back in time to meet some famous and not-so-famous lady nerds.
She starts with the easy stuff: Marie Curie’s scientific romance and collaboration with Pierre (and ‘Cornelius’, apparently the name of the large pile of dirt she sifted through to isolate radium).
Nerdy types short of a pick-up line might like to remember and reuse the puns about magnetism – a common interest the Curies bonded over (sorry) – or “Remember my name, you’ll be citing it later!” if you want to get really academic.
Then it gets a little more obscure, with a Chicago-esque ode to Bette Nesmith Graham.
A high-school dropout who ended up a working single mother after World War II, Nesmith Graham invented Liquid Paper to hide her poor typing skills.
And Florence Nightingale might be known for her compassionate nursing, lamp in hand, but her contributions to statistics and hygiene make her the “Chuck Norris of lady nerds”, Daley declares.
A definite highlight was the sketch about Hedy Lamarr, a Hollywood actor who was more than a pretty face. She escaped Austria and her controlling first husband, who was doing business with the Nazis, and developed the concept of frequency hopping, the predecessor of wifi. Disappointingly, the concept wasn’t picked up for the war effort, because (in Daley’s words) “Whenever I choose to be clever, no one pays attention”.
The adage of ‘It’s funny because it’s true’ definitely holds here, with women still fighting to be taken seriously in tech, ‘hard’ sciences and even in geek subculture (if they’re not in a Slave Leia costume, anyway). But Daley’s unflinching enthusiasm, stage presence, impeccable timing and prodigious singing talent are great tools for punching through stereotypes – and for getting some good belly laughs for nerds everywhere, proud or self-loathing.