Tuesday, 1 July 2014

Robert Newman - New Theory of Evolution at the Balham Comedy Festival

JUST over 20 years ago Rob Newman and his comedy partner David Baddiel were selling out stadiums and commanding an astonishing level of celebrity status and success.
The pair were the pin ups of their generation and responsible for turning comedy into the new rock’n’roll.
However, while David went on to find a continuation of fame and fortune with projects such as Fantasy Football League after they split, Rob's career went a totally different way.
Indeed for a while he virtually disappeared from view, shunning the limelight and only popping up from time to time to do one-off solo projects.
The time away allowed him to reinvent himself from the poster boy image he clearly felt uncomfortable with to the politically astute, anti-establishment comedian and writer he actually was.
But now Rob, or Robert as he prefers to be called, is back with a new show, the New Theory of Evolution and which he is bringing to the Balham Comedy Festival next week.
Part of a nationwide tour, it is his first new show for seven years and as we chat it's clear the 49-year-old is delighted to be back behind the mic.
"I've never done the Balham Comedy Festival before but I'm really looking forward to it," he says. "The Bedford Pub, where it's held, is a great venue and I've seen some amazing comedians there over the years.
"I did perform there once and it was the sweetest loveliest gig so I'm pleased to be able to bring the show here."
The New Theory of Evolution sees Robert tell the story of how a series of personal disasters and jammy flukes led him to stumble upon a whole new theory of evolution, which he calls the Survival of the Misfits.
It’s a story which includes altruistic vampire bats, Prince Kropotkin’s daring escape from a Tsarist dungeon and Richard Dawkins’ postman wrestling naked.
"I've been touring it for a few months now," he says. "It's normally 90 minutes long but at Balham I only have an hour so the audience will get a greatest hits version with a bit of ukulele at the end - great comedy always ends with a song!
"But the main thing is I put forward a new theory of evolution."
It sounds a bit heavy I suggest tentatively. Do people need a degree to understand it? He laughs.
"Oh yes, everyone who comes along will be required to sit a general knowledge test and those who fail will be banished to the next room!
"Actually although it's more focused on science it is tremendous fun to talk about," he enthuses. "It's about ideas, and if you have got ideas, you open up this whole new world which gives you much more material to talk about - for example the strange behaviour of wolves or flat worms.
"Audiences want ideas and I think there is a hunger for that - it certainly gives you more to get your teeth into and it doesn't make it less funny - in fact it makes it more funny.
"There is a big industry out there telling us that we are born selfish and it's such a depressing idea so it's the job of the comedian to cheer everyone up and get rid of that wrong idea by tearing a hole in it.
"I have had a few guffaws from audiences...!"
Softly spoken, but warm and extremely polite, throughout our chat Robert comes across as thoughtful, almost nervous and at times seems almost embarrassed by his younger self.
"When I read these reports of what it was like back then [at the height of his fame], my experience was completely different," he says simply. "It's not something I recognise.
"I remember being chased around back stage by the security guards. They just saw a scruffy bloke and thought he shouldn't be back stage so they chased me. It was quite tense.
"I got very nervous and stressed out - I didn't have any sang-froid."
So are things better now that he's back I ask?
"Oh yes," he enthuses. "I am really loving it although I wasn't sure how I would feel initially because I'd been away for a while," he admits.
So why the long time away? It appears health, parenthood and other projects got in the way.
"I wrote my book The Trade Secret which took me six years - I'm a slow writer and thinker," he says somewhat apologetically.
"It's based on a true story and there's a lot of Elizabethan swashbuckling that goes on in it so it was great fun to do and I enjoyed escaping into that world.
"I also had a couple of operations on my back and spent a year learning how to walk again though I'm OK now. And then I became someone's dad.
"It was only after all that I started on this show and it involved a lot of workshops and research.
"I hope now I'm back the comedy is richer for all that experience - I'm certainly enjoying it very much," he adds. "People have been warm and generous in their reaction and appreciation which is fantastic.
"I think I'm enjoying it more these days although I do miss the tour bus and my tour manager," he jokes. "These days it's just me on my own and in smaller venues."
And this is something he prefers.
"I did a gig at the Shepherd's Bush Empire with Mark Thomas which was nice but I thought I was going to have a heart attack beforehand as I was so nervous.
"It was terrifying and really scary. Now I think anywhere bigger than the Hammersmith Apollo doesn't work for me - or for comedy come to that, and I regret having set a bad precedent.
"Even with bands it is always disappointing in a large venue as you can't see them - if I was that popular again I don't know I would choose a large venue.
"I love smaller places and the connection you have with your audience so I'm really looking forward to the gig at the Bedford.
"The only thing is that the pub is right next to the railway line so you always hope a train doesn't come by in the bit just before the joke's punchline!"

Robert Newman's New Theory of Evolution is at the Balham Comedy Festival, Bedford Pub, Bedford Hill on Friday, July 11. Tickets cost £16. Visit www.balhamcomedyfestival.com or call the box office on 0208 682 8940.

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