An exclusive interview with
By Pete Austin
Robin Ince has been touring constantly since I last spoke with him in 2008 but for the comedian who is coming to Kettering on June 20 the touring is about to stop.
It is only the second time Robin has been to the town. His first visit was around 10 years ago when he played at a nightclub, and he is happy to be returning, this time to Kettering Arts Centre, with his latest, and probably his last tour show: Blooming Buzzing Confusion. After the tour, which ends in July, Robin has decided to draw a line under this part of his career and concentrate on other projects that have been bubbling under the surface for some time.
“You could say it is an almost farewell tour.” he told me. “I have been doing stand-up for 23 years. It is highly unlikely I will totally give it up but I have so many other things I want to do I am going to take a break from being on the road. Well, not the road more on the rails as I now travel by train. No matter how squalid the trains are, I can sit with my books and my pencil and write new material. It has been like this for the last seven or eight years, one tour rolling straight in to the next. I go home and check to see who I am in the mirror, say hello to the family and then set off again.
“I have ideas for two books, a novel and a work of non-fiction so for the first few months I aim to sit in the attic, do some reading, some writing and looking through my telescope at the night sky and watching the stars.
“I also enjoy making radio documentaries like the Monkey Cage. I have covered subjects from the philosophy of self-help to the fictions of hollow Earth. I love facts and exploring ideas so would like to do more. However, I will not say I will never go back to stand-up again.”
But it is stand-up that brings Robin to Kettering and he has an arsenal of material at his command. Without giving too much away it will include topical material such as the election “…it’s not going to go away yet” and possible observations on the monarchy. Humour can be found in any subject and Robin’s interest in what makes people tick, including himself, will undoubtedly result in some very wry and amusing spontaneous outbursts of revelations. (Note to audience – expect some audience participation here as Robin may pose some interesting questions and the answers will inevitably release a very loose chain of ideas for him to develop).
Since starting out, when he was labelled as one of the ‘alternative’ comedians, Robin believes comedy has developed even more genres from cringe and black comedy to deadpan and satirical.
He said: “It is not ludicrous now for someone to go to their school’s career officer to say they want to be a comedian. TV is laden with stand-ups but comedy is now not just mainstream or alternative. It is like music. You don’t say I like music but I like jazz or death metal. Now you say I like mainstream artists such as those who perform at the O2 or, I like those who play the clubs like Stewart Lee. It’s very healthy but it is harder now for people to be experimental.
“I was recently invited to one club but was asked NOT to include any new material in my set. Comedians need the space to be able to dick around and experiment. When audiences turn up with a “Make me laugh” demanding attitude that is not possible. Where the verve and energy comes from which makes the whole thing more exciting is missing.”
Every comedian has to have a source for the material they use. For Robin it is books, books and more books. An avid reader, he once cited his favourite book as being Diary of a Nobody by George Grossmith. This has now been surpassed in its number of readings by Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Galapagos but at present it is the John Higgs book, Stranger than we can Imagine, that Robin is reading.
He said, “I like to read and explore everything that makes life more enriching, the trees, the animals the workings of the brain. We live in a world of quantum mechanics. Every time I look at the night sky and see Jupiter I question the sense of my own place in the universe.
“I recently had a brain scan for fun, just to see the structures that go to make up my world, it was fascinating.”
It is this fascination that spills over into Robin’s shows. Every week he says he tries to find out something new, something he didn’t know the week before. These facts are then developed into the wry and witty observations to share with audiences, often introducing little experiments for them to try at home.
He said: “I like people questioning themselves or beliefs, getting them to think about something they may not have considered before. If they go home wanting to look something up or try something different because of what they have heard it is good. That is why I like smaller venues. Arts centres are vital, and every town needs smaller centres to stage different events. There is a lot more music around than One Direction and the bands who only want to play the stadiums. I once played in a barn on the south coast. Another time I was in a room above a pub with 50-60 people in the audience and I loved the intimacy of it. Comedy is not just the Apollo.”
Technology also plays a key part in Robin’s world. He said: “I love being able to continue conversations with members of the audience and the Internet can be beneficial in that. I often receive messages from people asking me to remind them of the name of someone or something I mentioned at the gig that they want to look up.”
Having toured across the whole of America and Australia as well as extensively in the UK the world has become a smaller place for this workaholic. However, for this globe-trotting comedian it is the lure of the English coastline that appeals to him when he wants to get away from it all.
“I have travelled very long distances,” he said, “so don’t want to travel far when I get home. I like visiting coastal towns, especially those on the East coast.”
With his tour (and touring?) coming to an end Robin said he had to thank his family for letting him do it for so long. He is hoping they will recognise him when he gets home but reckons it might not be too long before they tire of him being under foot and banish him to the attic and his vast library. It is probably why, when asked to describe himself in five words, he replied: “An over-curious Renaissance idiot.” His brain has so much more it wants to absorb, and then share with the world at large.
If you want to know what makes Robin tick, (and yourself), then BLOOMING BUZZING CONFUSION is for you. Click here to go to our event page.
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Tickets for this event are available from Waterstones, High Street, Kettering, by post from Becky at St Andrew’s Church (cheques made payable to “PCC of St Andrew’s Kettering”) to St Andrew’s Vicarage, Lindsay Street, Kettering NN16 8RG