| 20 questions: Robin Ince

20 questions: Robin Ince

What’s it like playing to huge theatres full of people who don’t want to see you, but Ricky Gervais?

It’s intriguing playing these huge venues, partly because I find myself feeling far less nervous than when I am playing art centres. Five minutes before going on I think, “better put on my ironed shirt and ensure my bladder is empty”. On the whole I have thoroughly enjoyed playing to his audience, though obviously in venues of 5,000 or more you can be sure that there shall be a few who I may not see eye to eye with in an alley, I mainly avoid alleys.

Is he as tough to tour with as the behind-the-scenes DVD footage suggests?

This tour has been far more twisted than the Politics tour, the last was only two months, this was dragged out for nearly a year. I believe it kept getting extended because Ricky had still seen no stress rash appear in the first three months. By June I had an eye going purple due to stress, so the dates ended soon after, he had won again. It’s very hard for people to understand why I end up agreeing to be buried on beaches and generally ridiculed, but it is only be spending 24 hours a day with Ricky and his Billy Joel-loving producer that you can start to comprehend the psychological games that never end.

Why do the people of Crawley hate you?

It was a joke that went awry as they so often can. I was doing a telephone interview with an Epsom journalist by the name of Matt Gaw. It was in a Somerfield Car Park in Leeds just by the bottle bank, so I was waffling and happened to say that I found solo touring peculiar – one moment I was in Rome, the next day I was in Crawley. I compared and contrasted Rome and Crawley, he then found he could change a few words ( and keep some of the genuine childish slights I muttered) and sell it to the Crawley Observer and bother local residents by asking them to give an opinion on how they felt about a little known comedian being a slightly rude in the Epsom Gazette. The local council leader, Bob Lanzer, jumped in to gasp the tiny bubble of oxygen generated by the story as local politicians like to do. The truth is, I don’t care what the people of Crawley say, Rome really is better than Crawley. Should I come to Edinburgh again it might be to perform a lecture piece called Rome Versus Crawley.

Are people, in general, getting more stupid?

We still have the same basic brains we had 100,000 years ago when we were eating weevils we’d prised out of bark and running from big hairy creatures, so I think the potential is still there. I believe that people have a thirst for knowledge but those in charge would rather they didn’t. Who wants a smart electorate, they’ll ask too many questions? When Lord Reith at the BBC was asked if he would give the people what they wanted he replied “oh no, we’ll give them something much better than that”. I think TV is now so scared of people changing channel they are one step behind public taste. It is vital we discover how we can make David Attenborough live forever, once he goes, we are in trouble. So they are really as smart or dumb as they have always been.

Your show’s about evolution: what will humans evolve into?

Evolution is so slow we might just end up a strange glitch on the fossil record. The good news is, if there is ever some sort of nuclear engagement, sloths will survive, so we might have to leave it to tree hangers and cockroaches to take earth on for the next few million years.

Who’s your least favourite right-wing commentator, and why?

I think Littlejohn is a small-minded bully, it was intriguing that he hosted a documentary about anti-Semitism as I believe if he had been working for Lord Rothermere in the Thirties he would have been exactly the kind of journalist to be railing against the Jewish immigrants. I don’t generally get so bothered by any of these journalists now, I just gave up reading newspapers. Mind you, on a positive note, I like Matthew Parris. On a sadder note, I once went to an apple picking day where Amanda Platell was meant to be assisting with the collection of the Granny Smiths. I had spent a week learning how to appear to be clumsily picking apples when actually lobbing them at the nape of her neck, but she didn’t turn up.

How did you come to write an Australian film about children’s dance competitions, Razzle Dazzle?

It all began when a friend, Carolyn, who I had not seen for ten years saw me on a TV show in Australia, she got in contact, we met up, her husband asked me to help write a wrestling film, when we finished that (though we hadn’t really as we have continued to rewrite over and over again) Carolyn had written a short story that seemed the perfect final scene for a film. So we all worked backwards and came up with this story of hungry mothers, wicked stepparents and children attempting tap in callipers.

How’s your own dancing?

Quite hideous, I once had to dance in a musical starring Ted Rogers and Su Pollard. The late Carmen Silvera from ‘Allo Allo would tut loudly every night as my 'step, step, back, together' would fall apart. I am too self-conscious. I was once forced to dance on live TV, with Lionel Blair, my face was puce with shame.

What’s the best celebrity autobiography you’ve discovered from the Book Club?

I still have a soft spot for the first, Syd Little’s Little Goes A Long Way, there is a delightful naivety about it. Don Estelle’s is a close second, it is so self-aggrandising but has a tragedy resting between the lines.

And the best cover blurb?

I have only found one Christian gynaecologist romance ever, it is called Sign Of The Speculum – The doctor healed her heart, but who would heal her soul

If you were to write a Mills & Boon novel, what would the title be?

I enjoy the two word titles such as Diamond Stud or Rash Intruder, though Vets At Cross Purposes is a humdinger too. So maybe Torrid Popsicle about a female London executive who moves to Milan and has a love feud with an ice cream magnate.

What’s the worst TV programme you’ve ever been involved with?

On a personal level, Mock The Week was a disaster. The producer told me to give everyone space and not to butt in, then once the show started it was an angry bear pit of comedians determined to gain most airtime and I sat there like a mute and bemused halfwit. When I told Hugh Dennis a few weeks later that I was told to sit back and let each person finish their words before butting in he looked quite apoplectic and declared it was terrible advice.

What’s the best live gig you’ve ever had?

I think the Stroke benefit at Hammersmith Apollo a couple of years ago was one of those rare occasions were I felt excited afterwards. I am stupidly self-critical so find it hard to bounce off stage with a modicum of excitement. Though I have loved nearly every gig I have done at XS Malarkey in Manchester. I can normally find fault in most of what I do, a single haphazard improvisation can infuriate me even after a great gig. I am a terrible idiot for self analysis.

And the worst?

The worst are never very exciting, you may have ones where people try to attack you onstage, or where the booing is angry and threatening, but it will be the slow miserable quietness and vague mumbling as your throat turns to sand that will always be the worst. I remember that happening in Croydon and it was the first time I had experienced such a thing after a few months of gigging. I felt that everyone was ready with a switchblade as I walked back to the station and passed the Yates’s Wine Lodge.

When did you first come to Edinburgh?

In 1987 I wandered around round eyed as I saw this fabulous parade of comedy in dank places. I have been a comedy obsessive for many years and started watching it live in my early teens, so to finally make it to this world that had usually been fed to me by Russell Harty made me quite giddy.

What’s been the biggest change since then?

There are so many shows and it costs so much to put them on and also for the audience to go and see anything. I am sure in the Eighties it was some performers coming up here to muck around and have fun. Now we all start sweating from January in desperation to have a polished show while we both fear scrutiny from the press and also fear lack of it. I applaud Peter Buckley Hill for launching the free fringe

What’s you favourite Edinburgh experience?

My first visit to Avalanche records is always a joy and getting second place in So You Think You’re Funny and meeting lots of comedians I had admired for years who bought me drinks and said nice things. It made me feel that perhaps I had made the right choice in attempting stand up.

Where do you go to escape the festival?

There is no escape. I attempt it by placing headphones on and sitting in a darkened room listening to that year’s album of choice over and over again.

What one thing could make the Fringe better?

A lack of constant self doubt.

Apart from your own, what other show would you recommend?

Danielle Ward and Martin White’s killer nun musical Psister Psycho should be a treat, Tim Key, Josie Long (not that she needs anymore publicity), Teenage Kicks, the play about John Peel, anything by Gawkagogo – I am sure there is much more, but even looking at the fringe brochure makes my stomach spasm.

  • Robin Ince Knew This Would Happen is at the Assembly rooms at 19:30. The Book Club is on at Assembly Universal Arts at 16:30,. Razzle Dazzle plays at the film festival on Friday 17 and Sunday 19.
  • /ul

    Published: 12 Aug 2007

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