Museums Showoff: Stand-up for brainiacs


A darkened basement, a microphone and nine-minutes in which to engage to a particularly discerning audience



Compare at all manner of show-off events: Steve Cross
Compare at all manner of show-off events: Steve Cross
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The Compere
I can tell you how it all started. For nearly a year I’d been running a similarly pub-based variety event, Science Showoff, and had been wondering if the same idea would work for a different flavour of nerd.

I knew a bunch of museum folk, so thought I’d try that angle and see what happened. At the first – and totally sold out – gig, a friend said: “This is great! It’s like all the good bits of the Museums Association conference compressed into two hours… but with booze.”

That’s when I knew I was on to something.

Steve Cross has worked as a lab scientist, an art curator for the Wellcome Collection and is now a ‘geek comedian, presenter and producer’.
He also hosts Bright Club and Science Showoff regularly at local venues including the Star of Kings on York Way and the Bloomsbury Theatre.

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The Act
There’s something wonderful about speaking in front of peers who share a passion for the more obscure areas of history. I spoke at the first ever Showoff, a few days before the Museums at Night festival which I coordinate. It was fantastic hearing the ripple of cheers come back from the audience as I asked if anyone was running one of our after-hours events. I hadn’t met most of the people, but it immediately felt as if we were part of the same community.


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I’ve spoken many times since, and regularly come as an audience member, where I always have the most interesting conversations with the people around me, laugh and gasp at the speakers’ insights, and come away brimming with ideas for things to research and new places to visit.

Rosie Clarke is Campaigns Officer at non-profit organisation Culture24. Their next Museums at Night will be held across hundreds of locations 30th-31st October.

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Audience at Museums Showoff
The discerning, highly receptive Museums Showoff audience, in the basement of the Slaughtered Lamb
The producer
I joined Museums Showoff immediately after watching the first show three years ago. As a museum consultant and academic, I have the contacts to make sure we find a diverse mix of acts each night. So we might have a gallery director, a volunteer, student, archivist, academic, design consultant and a conservator all sharing a stage.

There are some roles that we’re yet to hear from though. I’d love someone who works in a museum shop to do a set for us, and a gallery warder would be great too. One of the best things about the event is people saying they’ve heard something they didn’t have a clue about before.

We know we’ve struck a chord too, because we’ve been asked to do gigs in Manchester, Brighton, Bristol, Edinburgh, Norwich and Cambridge to date. Then there are franchises beyond the UK; currently in Boston, Buenos Aires, Rio and Toronto, and I’ve just had enquiries from Paris and Amsterdam.

And there’s another side to our work with those in the early stages of their careers. Getting to work in museums is really tough, and if you do get a job it’s often badly paid and insecure. We ran a conference last year which gave these folk a voice and resulted in the Manifesto for the Future of Museums. It’s had an incredibly positive response from across the board, from museum trustees, to directors and funding organisations.

Rachel Souhami is an academic, exhibition maker and runs Museums Showoff. Events are held bi-monthly at The Slaughtered Lamb, 34-35 Great Sutton Street, EC1V.

The next one is on tomorrow, Tuesday 7th July with tickets available for £5.


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