Robin Ince

Robin Ince

Date of birth: 30-11-1968
Robin Ince started his comedy career as a writer, working on shows including Alistair McGowan's Big Impression, V Graham Norton and Meet Ricky Gervais, his first of many collaborations with the After Life creator. He regularly supported Gervais on tour. He also appeared in one episode of The Office, playing interviewee Stewart Foot.

That role inspired his tongue-in-cheek solo Edinburgh debut in 2004, and he has returned to the Fringe every year since. In 2005 he started erudite comedy night The Book Club, loosely based around bad literature, which won him the innovation award at the 2006 Chortle Awards as well as the outstanding contribution to comedy accolade at that year's Time Out awards.

In 2006, he co-wrote his first feature film, Razzle Dazzle, about children's dance contests in Australia.

More latterly, Ince has become known for science-based shows, especially the Christmas spectacular Nine Lessons And Carols For Curious People, which began in 2008 – the year before he started co-hosting Radio 4 pop-science show Infinite Monkey Cage with Professor Brian Cox.

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Robin Ince’s Reality Tunnel

Review of his first Radio 4 special

It comes as a surprise to find it’s taken 31 years of doing stand-up for Robin Ince to have his first comedy special on Radio 4. After all, he’s a prolific creator who has both the curiosity and clarity of communication that makes him perfect for the station – as the 24 series of pop science show The Infinite Monkey Cage prove.

But as he admitted in a revealing blog earlier in the week, it’s taken him this long to find the style and content he’s comfortable with. Robin Ince’s Reality Tunnel certainly feels like a culmination of many of the strands he’s pursued over recent years, especially the insatiable interest in science and psychology combined with an increased willingness to talk about what’s really on his mind. Not just the thoughts triggered by external stimuli, but its internal processes too.

The show starts with snippets of ideas and thoughts floating across a soundscape, and much of the content revolves around him fighting with the various parts of his brain and personality that he hasn’t always felt comfortable with, trying to understand them.

Existential fears come from self-loathing, intrusive thoughts, conflicting internal monologues (he has five of them), imposter syndrome, recently diagnosed ADHD, and anxiety – as depicted as ‘the Tasmanian Devil played by Sid James.

With occasional forays into the likes of quantum physics – there are few rabbit holes Ince can resist plunging into – he covers the disconnect between the outwardly projected personality and the whirring cogs of the internal mind behind that.

The sound of the special, produced by Carl Cooper, matches the varying aspects of his mind. Occasionally his voice distorts as if it’s been transmitted through a solar storm, or sometimes there’s urgent music and a pumping heartbeat to reflect the advancing sense of foreboding.

It is peak Ince: smart, intense, wildly digressionary yet somehow coherent. It’s undoubtedly intellectually ambitious – not for people seeking carefree laughs, even if Ince successfully makes light of the themes and all his research. Laughs come from witty turns of phrase and silly impersonations from his Monkey Cage co-host Brian Cox to Brian Blessed and – more niche, this – the late actor Nicky Henson.  

There are laughs, too, of recognition, but probably more at how extreme his personal versions of widespread insecurities are, and to which he frankly admits. One conclusion is that we are all stronger by sharing our fragilities – and it’s a philosophy Ince adheres to, even if it’s taken him 31 years to get here.

• The first part of Robin Ince’s Reality Tunnel is on Radio 4 at 11pm tonight, then on BBC Sounds.

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Published: 14 Jul 2022

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Past Shows

Edinburgh Fringe 2001

Rubbernecker


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