Dhaka, Bangladesh
Namesake snhws Darwin funny side

Namesake snhws Darwin funny side

Richard Milner's one-man musical keeps science in good humour

In 1953, two sixth graders in a US town became best friends after they discov-ered their shared passions for Gilbert & Sullivan operas, dinosaurs, the American Museum of Natural History and Charles Darwin. Their classmates considered them geeks and bestowed appropriate nicknames: Fossilface and Dino. Fossilface grew up to become an evolu-tionary biologist better known as Stephen Jay Gould. Dino grew up to become Charles Darwin, the comedian. Officially, he is a sci-ence historian named Richard Milner, but he regularly turns into his hero on stage -complete with white beard, bowler and cape - in a one-man musical, Charles Darwin: Live & In Concert. "Everyone should fmd his own Darwin," Milner says. "The man was so large. He was a zoologist, a botanist, an explorer, a travel writer, a philosopher, an abolitionist, a dot-ing father, a radical intellectual revolu-tionary with an utterly conservative and blemish-free lifestyle. He revolutionized every field he touched, and he was trained in none of them." Okay, he was large. Granted, there are many Darwins to find. But until Milner came along, no one had ever found Darwin, the singing comedian. Somehow, Milner has turned the shy naturalist into a suavely be-mused performer doing patter songs about trilobites, garfish and tortoise shells. Even more remarkable, the show is amus-ing enough to keep generating paying gigs at colleges, museums and conferences around the world. Milner, who lives in Manhattan, supports himself with the earnings from his shows and his writing, including his forthcoming encyclopedia, Darwin's Universe: Evolution From AtoZ. "As Darwin himself said, I am a millionaire in odd and useless facts," Milner says. In his scholarly work, he has discovered another hidden side of the man: Darwin the Ghostbuster, who secretly helped finance the prosecution of a spiritualist con man being supported legally by Darwin's scien-tific rival, Alfred Wallace. But none of this scholarship is as chal-lenging as finding humour in Darwin. The first rule is not to look for the laughs in Darwin's books. "It's in his letters that you find the warm and sometimes funny Dar-win," Milner said. Darwin recorded some of the foibles of the humans travelling with him on the Beagle, like the ship captain's at-tempt to "civilize" the Indians of Tierra del Fuego by educating three of them in Eng-land and then returning them to their home. "Darwin knew it was a ridiculous scheme," Milner says, "when he saw what supplies English ladies had sent for the group, including fine linens, silver soup tureens and beaver hats. He called it 'the most culpable folly' " In Milner's musical version of the story, the captain's dreams are crushed when one of the Indians casts off foreign clothes and announces his verdict of English living: "It is plain, it's a pain."

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