The granddaddy of The Pizzicato Effect, the “existential crisis in lecture and song" from writer-performer Brendan Hughes and satirical singer-songwriter Jeffrey Dinsmore, might be the old BBC science-trivia series Connections. In that show, host James Burke would routinely demolish a teleological view of history by examining a specific technology as the almost whimsical product of “the great web of knowledge through space and time.”
Hughes’ mock disquisition seeks nothing so mundane. Rather, the personable, polymathic comedian draws together a concatenation of autobiography, art history, cosmology, physiology, mathematics, quantum physics and both Eastern and Western philosophy, all of which he promptly turns sideways to answer the great ontological questions of human existence. The hilariously loopy answers become the basis for what he calls “Brendianism” — using “science to invent a religion as entertainment.”
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It’s the kind of self-flattering evening of parodic erudition for anyone who was ever addicted to PBS science docs or had any love for the highbrow musical ironies of Tom Lehrer (courtesy of Dinsmore and his rock band). Improbably plucking his way through scientific and historical factoids — bookended by the biography of post-Impressionist painter Paul Gauguin — Hughes wisecracks his way to an oddly moving and serious definition of art as a communion that “brings us closer to an understanding of the condition of being human.”