Stand up for chickens

Stand up for chickens

Stand up for chickens

By Dr Naomi Sykes

Originally featured on the Arts & Humanities Research Council’s blog

For Easter, we’ve got a special blog all about chickens and eggs from the AHRC funded project that looks at human-chicken interactions. For Being Human 2015, the project put on a night of stand-up comedy all about our feathered friends, a film of which is also included in this post. 


In 2013, when we started our project researching human-chicken interactions over the last 8,000 years, we were lambasted by the press, in particular the red-tops, who couldn’t resist the puns: “What a bird-brained project!”, “Researchers are causing a flap!”, “Tax-payers are crying fowl!”. Can’t really blame them, chickens are funny – insignificant, dumb animals whose main purpose is to provide us with meat and eggs. Right? Well…

Regardless of how our team felt about the press reaction, we all agreed it was really interesting, speaking volumes about our culture: in general, the British population is happy to have access to cheap protein but is less keen to question where it comes from, the ethics and environmental impact of its production, or the consequences of our consumer demands on global human and animal health.

One of the best things about the Arts and Humanities – in particular our ability to study different cultures in time and space – is that they give us the opportunity to stretch our minds and challenge, not simply confirm, our assumptions. Better still is that, through Arts and Humanities research, it is possible to transform attitudes by presenting complex issues in an engaging and accessible way. It was with this in mind that we came up with our 2015 event – comedy! Chickens are funny! Why fight it?

It took some convincing to get our Leadership Fellow, Prof. Barry Smith, to buy into the idea but, once on board, he was as supportive as ever. Barry hooked us up with Science Show-off Steve Cross, who is now the project’s Comedian-in-Residence (read about it here).

Steve worked closely with our whole team, attending our project meetings and conducting interviews in order to develop bespoke research-led stand-up material for our event Why did the Chicken…? which took place at the aptly named Hen and Chickens Theatre Bar in Islington.

Our Comedian-in-Residence was joined by chicken-lover, Kate Humble (off the telly), Martin ‘the egg-man’ Austwick and US comedian Danny Lobell, whose beautiful and life-affirming set demonstrated just how important chickens can be in transforming lives for the better.

Did we change the world on the night? Nope. But we did film it all in the hope that, through this archive, we can bring our research to more people than were able to attend. The only question now is: how do we top this for Being Human 2016?

*This film contains adult humour that may not be suitable for children*