Grantee: Simon Watts
Challenge: Increasing awareness of, and concern for, EDGE species using comedy
One of the most important ways to prevent biodiversity loss is to avert the extinction of Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered (EDGE) species. However, conservation as a sector is not well-funded, relying on public donations and government subsidies. Raising funds and garnering attention for these less-well-known species is challenging, particularly as they compete for recognition with more "charismatic" pandas, tigers, and elephants. Additionally, trying to communicate scientific concepts about EDGE species in a relatable manner isn’t a walk in the park. New approaches that acknowledge and overcome, these challenges are needed.
This grant project supports a novel method of awareness-raising. A stand-up comedy show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the largest arts fair in the world!
Simon Watt, the beneficiary of the grant, is a biologist, comedian, science presenter, and performer. He hosts the comedy science podcast Level Up Human, creates material for museums and universities, and contributes to TV and radio. He also runs the Ugly Animal Preservation Society (UAPS), a comedy club with a conservation twist. Simon started UAPS in 2012 because he wanted to expand conservation messaging beyond scientific circles. His idea was to raise the profile of lesser-known Endangered species in a way that was cheeky and fun, rather than guilt and gloom.
More than 100,000 people have already seen UAPS live performances, and the organization has collaborated with more than 50 artists. To celebrate the 10th year of UAPS, Simon used the On the Edge grant to take the comedy club to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2022. By reaching out to a wider, more culturally attuned audience, his aim was also to raise the organization’s profile and build up to the first ever Ugly Animal Day.
In addition to a full run at the Festival, UAPS plans included:
Redeveloping the UAPS website to act as a platform for EDGE content.
A tour of natural history museums and festivals.
Achievements so far:
Supported each day by two guest comedians, Simon’s show ran for an hour from 5th-28th August in the Belly Dancer Room of the Underbelly, Cowgate. Species discussed included the kakapo, Cuban solenodon, purple frog, Myers Suriname toad, black-crested macaque, giant Chinese salamander, sharks and coral. Among his guests were Neil Delamere, Alex Farrow, Alice Frazer, Jamie Gallagher, Nigel Lovell, Elf Lyons, Eleanor Morton, Florence Schechter and Matt Winning. More than 1,100 people saw the show, which got great reviews. Aya Freke described it as “the best thing at the Fringe!” While Alan Cranston wrote that Simon was “a good communicator […] far too savvy to lecture us […] and “very, very funny”.
Simon has updated uglyanimalsoc.com with EDGE content.
Simon Watts at Edinburgh Fringe Festival