Comedian aims to win Chinese child fans with science book
Performer O'Briain's guide to space translated for new audience
Internationally popular stand-up comedian Dara O'Briain is hoping to find a new audience in China after one of his science books written for children was translated.
The 47-year-old Irishman, a household name in his homeland and the United Kingdom because of his frequent live performances and television appearances, is a huge science enthusiast, having studied mathematics and theoretical physics at University College Dublin before becoming a children's television presenter and comedy performer.
"The first I knew about this was when the published book was put in my hand, which was a wonderful surprise," he told China Daily."This translation is the cherry on the cake of what was already a hugely enjoyable project. There have been a few changes – my face has gone from the cover, replaced by a reflective visor, and they've changed the title. It was Beyond the Sky: You and the Universe but it's now Fly into Space? Are You Crazy, There's Nothing There, which is a joke from one of the first pages. I'd love to have a shelf of my book in different languages, so one in an entirely different alphabet is very exciting."
O'Briain is famed for his fast-talking style and is an in-demand performer around the world, with live performances in places as far apart as New Zealand and Russia scheduled for this year.
He has also performed in Hong Kong, Beijing, and, unforgettably, Shanghai.
"That audience was very mixed but there were about 10 locals in the front row who had obviously been told to come and see me because they were learning English," he said. "After about five minutes of listening to my accent and how fast I talk, they left because they couldn't understand a word!"
O'Briain says he has been delighted by the reaction to his books in the UK and Ireland, and is keen to see how they go down in China.
"Comedy can be quite a cynical industry, but when I have people sending me photos of their children falling asleep with the book on their chest, or even in one case, a boy who went to school for World Book Day actually dressed up as the book itself – that's so sweet, that kind of feedback is wonderful.
"I must have read science books when I was a child, but I can't honestly remember which ones, only those from when I was a bit older, like A Brief History of Time, which were genuinely life-changing and made me want to study the subject. There certainly weren't any funny ones like mine."
In addition to his profile as a comedian, O'Briain is also a regular co-presenter of science programs on television, including Robot Wars, the series that inspired the popular Chinese show Battle Bots.
"I like the science presentation but I'm aware of the gulf in knowledge between me and the real experts on the shows," he said. "It's nice to exercise a different part of my brain but creating a comedy routine is what really makes me feel good."
One of the biggest thrills of O'Briain's career was to spend time with hero, Stephen Hawking, in 2014, for a documentary made by the BBC around the release of his biographical film, The Theory of Everything.
"When I first met him, I was so nervous I would talk for ages, not realizing that I needed to stop and give him time to compose his answer," O'Briain explained. "I felt awful when I saw how clumsy I looked, but a motor neurone disease charity said they were really glad we left that bit in the film, because that's exactly how everyone behaves at first. Working with him was a wonderful experience. He was a lovely man."