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Comedian Alex Horne on taking up birdwatching for a year and why he‘s searching for someone from Tuvalu

  • Alex Horne

    You toucan have a hobby: ornithologist Alex Horne

  • I like doing shows about things that aren’t obvious topics for comedy. In the past I’ve tackled science, body language and Latin. So birdwatching seemed the next logical step. I’ve been wanting to talk about birdwatching for quite a long time. My dad’s a birdwatcher (or, more accurately, a birder). He’s been watching birds for as long as I’ve known him (that’s almost 29 years). Whenever we were in the car on family holidays, he’d knock frantically on the window if a kestrel was hovering above the motorway. We’d all have to look up and say: ‘Yes, that’s very nice, Dad. Well done.’

    I was a member of the Young Ornithologists Club when I was little. I still have the shiny badge (an osprey, I think) in a drawer somewhere. But from the age of seven any interest in the hobby waned. I’m now the same age as my dad was when he had me. He’s twice as old as I am (that hasn’t always been the case – when I was five, he wasn’t ten). So I thought it was time to find out what it is that continues to make him tick (and twitch) by joining him on a Big Year. That’s a birding term for trying to see as many species as possible in 12 months. A year-long immersion seemed like a good plan. We started our good-natured (H)ornithological competition on January 1 2006.

    As I say, I’m not really into birds myself. I’m into technology: projectors, iPods, camcorders, PowerPoint, that sort of thing. But I didn’t want to show photos or films of birds during the show. So instead I recorded the sound of my birdwatching year in the hope of capturing some of the hilarious banter that’s bandied around in hides. I’ll play a bit of that in the show. There will also be subtitles, an overhead projector, shadow puppets and table football.

    It’s hard to fit a year into an hour. I’m still not a birdwatcher, but I did enjoy wandering around lakes, beaches, woods and sewage works with my dad (and wife, brothers, other birdwatchers and any friends I could drag along). It’s quite relaxing and I could call it research.

    I’m taking ‘Birdwatching’ to the Edinburgh Fringe. I’m also doing an extra show there this year. It’s a high-octane quiz that I’ve put together with Mark Watson and Tim Key. We’re doing it in association with AQA 63336 (the text service where you ask them anything and they do their utmost to answer it). During August we’ll be having 16 big guns at the Edinburgh Festival – comedians, musicians, promoters, celebrities – fight it out for a place in an over-hyped Grand Final. This quiz show is called ‘We Need Answers AKA Any Questions AKA The Festival Challenge Cup With AQA’.

    In the middle of the festival I’ll be doing a one-off talk about a project called ‘The World In One City’. It’s something that Owen Powell, who directed my previous shows, and I are currently embroiled in. During the World Cup last year I bought a Panini sticker album. After England’s exit, we decided to create our own global album by trying to find someone from every country in the world living in London. There are 192 countries in the UN. So far, we’ve met people from 90 of them. You can read about our encounters at www.worldinonecity.blogspot.com . In Edinburgh we’ll be appealing for people from places like Tuvalu, Nauru and the Federated States of Micronesia.

    Alex Horne performs ‘Birdwatching’ as part of the N2O Comedy Festival at BAC in Battersea on Thursday. ‘We Need Answers’ is at the Canal Café Theatre on June 27.


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