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John Robins

John Robins

The winner of the Chortle Award for best compere in 2015, John Robins began comedy in spring 2005, and made his Edinburgh debut in 2007 as part of the prestigious Comedy Zone showcase. The following year, he teamed up with one of his contemporaries for Carl Donnelly vs John Robins vs Predator, before making his solo debut in 2009.

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The Elis James and John Robins Experience

The Elis James and John Robins Experience

Those uninitiated into to the rituals and in-jokes of Elis James and John Robins’s Radio X programmes and spin-off podcast face something of a learning curve at the live version, here at Latitude ahead of a fully-fledged tour in the autumn.

This is, primarily, for the die-hard fans the duo have attracted; to such an extent that they can stage a gameshow based on trivia about their real lives, and hit an 80 per cent success rate. Once, knowing such intimate details of a stranger’s life would warrant a restraining order.

Phrases like ‘PCD’ and ‘farthing-gate’ get bandied about without explanation to reassert the cult-like status and baffle outsiders. Announcing ‘Chapter 31 of…’ gets a cheer even before the item itself is properly introduced.

It’s actually Robins Among The Pigeons, the comedian’s running journal… and comedy anoraks probably recognise the similarity to an idea once pitched by another radio personality with a bird-based surname in I’m Alan Partridge.

Indeed, Robins appears to be basing his broadcasting persona on Steve Coogan’s alter-ego. Example? He boasts that he’s pre-registered for VAT even before hitting the income threshold for a self-employed trader to get ahead of the curve – and thinks that’s made him a winner.

And this before the all-consuming obsession with a great, but far-from-cool band from the 1970s – in Robins’s case, Queen. I should mention he wore a Freddie Mercury replica yellow leather jacket, unbuttoned to the navel, for this session.

James has his obsessions, too, Welsh rugby players from the 1970s seems a key one. But in comparison to his sofa-buddy, he’s absolutely the normal one, if a little scatterbrained and prone to such old-school exclamations as: ‘Oh my giddy aunt!’

Yet for all the insider references, most of the show is accessible. Their personalities strong and well-established provide a rich vein of self-deprecation, such as Robins describing the build-up to his recent appearance on Mock The week.

The biggest laugh in this show comes from the regular feature Humblebrag Of The Week – courtesy of the Twitter user who thought it apt to use the report into the Hillsborough tragedy as leverage to boast about their dissertation score. The biggest laugh but also the guiltiest.

A few things don’t really work – the ‘hastily improvised adventures of Little Georgie Ezra’ in which James gives the songsmith a voice very similar to Alex Lowe’s comedy character Barry From Watford to witter on about a neighbour’s smoking, exhausts the joke quickly and isn’t weird or funny enough to pay off the audience’s investment. And Textual Healing, in which the pair play agony aunt to a fan’s problem, seems an idea designed more for radio than the stage.

But still, the clubbable nature of the show cuts them a lot of, well, latitude, as the vibe is one of mates just messing about. Slick certainly isn’t in their skill set. They lose bits of script, struggle to play the jingles and this at a performance where, rarely for them, they’re both sober.

Yet  by making their growing band of PCDs (OK, I’ll tell you: it’s PodCast Devotees) feel like part of the joke, the ramshackle charabanc of their comedy delivers the laughs.

Monday 18th Jul, '16
Steve Bennett

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