‘Messi is no genius’: Simon Evans heads to Norwich to ask what’s happened to real brilliance
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When Messi is labelled a genius but our political leaders are university also-rans you know something has gone wrong somewhere. Comedian Simon Evans' brings his new show to Norwich to bemoan that genuine geniuses seem thin on the ground.
While everyone from your local barista to a modestly talented footballer might be dubbed a 'genius' these days, stand-up Simon Evans is not sure that many people are truly deserving of such an accolade.
The comic's new touring show Genius, which he brings to the region this month, sees him bemoan the fact that genuine geniuses are low on the ground.
He explains: 'The show is about the notion of actual genius being hard to find anywhere, and about a collapse of any ambition for intelligent discourse or analysis in public life which is where it really matters.'
As a way of highlighting this decline and fall, Simon points to our key political leaders and wonders whether we have the crème de la crème in those prime positions.
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He said: 'The general election was the first time people had an insight into just how inadequate Theresa May was for this huge task that had been set her. Not that it's everything, but when you look at her academic achievements, she has a 2.2 in geography: you'd be disappointed if you found out your geography teacher had a 2.2!
'And Jeremy Corbyn, who now actually looks like a Prime Minister in waiting, failed to complete a degree course at North London Polytechnic.
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'I don't think we're getting the best of the best, and I just don't know what you do about that.'
So, where does Simon Evans think all the clever people are winding up? 'My suspicion is that they're all going to Silicon Valley,' he observes. 'I'm training my children to learn to code. My wife still insists on them having oboe lessons and doing modern dance. I'm just saying 'forget it, there will be robots playing oboe soon'.'
As a means of contrasting how times have changed, he points to an iconic publication which has swapped knowledge and depth for trivia and gloss.
He said: 'One of the centrepieces of the show is a comparison between the Guinness Book of World Records when I was about 10 years old in the 1970s and my son's copy now. His one is this smorgasbord of huge and garish full-colour photos of people such as Neymar and the most tattooed man. Whereas in my day it was an extraordinarily dense compendium of facts about things like the most predominant mineral deposits on the surface of the planet. Maybe things have just got more enjoyable...'
What has certainly been enjoyable over the past couple of decades is witnessing the rise of Simon Evans as one of the most reliable and thought-provoking stand-up talents.
Critical acclaim and audience admiration have never been too hard for him to find through live shows such as Fringe Magnet, Leashed and In The Money, while radio listeners have been treated to several series of Simon Evans Goes To Market, his comedy lectures on economic matters.
And those clever TV people have got him on the box through shows such as Mock The Week, Live At The Apollo and Dara Ó Briain: School Of Hard Sums. He is also a regular on Radio 4, with three series of his own show Goes To Market already broadcast and two more in the pipeline. He makes regular appearances on The News Quiz and he anchored and wrote seven series of the news satire The Way It Is.
More pertinently he was in a team of comedians who appeared on University Challenge: The Professionals in 2007, narrowly being beaten by eventual series winners the Ministry of Justice. He was also a contestant on Celebrity Mastermind, where his specialist subject was Ernest Shackleton. He won his heat and was only prevented from winning the final due to there not being one.
And yet despite all this exposure, Simon still harbours reservations about his own abilities. He said: 'So, while the show is about the ultimate decay and collapse of western civilisation, it's also recognition of my failure to live up to my own intellectual ambitions, and that moment when you suddenly realise your chances of a Nobel Prize are slipping over the horizon.
'I've also entered a strange mania phase where I've developed what I initially thought was a cute tendency of buying more books than I would ever be able to read. I'm determined to absorb this information and be able to wield it, which started partly with writing this show Genius.'
He goes on: 'I thought that if I'm going to talk about genius, then I need to demonstrate that I've mastered a few things myself, and it's become this worrying addiction now.
'I'm surrounded by piles of books: there's stuff about everything from philanthropists and what they're really up to, to books about Byzantine Europe and the eastern Roman Empire, and philosophy going all the way back. But it's kind of a nonsense that people will be impressed by this.'
Putting the finishing touches to his show ahead of another big national tour, he wondered whether genius is in any way quantifiable.
He said: 'One of the things about genius is that some people dispute that it should be a term at all.
'Intelligence is a highly controversial subject. There are furious culture wars going on between evolutionary psychology and social construct departments.
'Are there differences between men and women? Does your IQ measure anything other than your ability to do well in that test?'
• Simon Evans: Genius is at Norwich Playhouse on March 17, 8pm, £15 (£13 cons), 01603 598598, norwichplayhouse.co.uk