'There’s not a misstep in it...' | John Robins picks his comedy favourties

'There’s not a misstep in it...'

John Robins picks his comedy favourties


I don't think there can be a best work of art, but Rushmore is definitely my favourite film, and, guys, I've seen Silence Of The Lambs 18 times, so that's saying something.

Rushmore is about a student (Max Fischer), who got a scholarship to a private school and is, according to the principal 'the worst student we've got'. He is the president of every club the school has, and sets up countless more, but academically he's useless.

The film tells the story of a love triangle between 15-year-old Max, teacher Miss Cross (Olivia Williams) and local millionaire Herman Blume (Bill Murray).

Writing for The Guardian, Paul Hamilos wrote in praise of Rushmore that director Wes Anderson was 'the inadvertent godfather of an irritatingly quirky school of US cinema that grew out of the late 1990s and came to give us such annoying films as Napoleon Dynamite and I Heart Huckabees'.

I see his point. After The Royal Tenenbaums, which I love, I think Anderson lost the balance between heart and artifice, making both The Life Aquatic and Moonrise Kingdom almost unwatchable. However, with Rushmore he gives us an exploration of innocence and experience that is as heartbreaking as it is funny.

Max reminds me of myself, that's why I love it and that's why I cry three times every time I watch it. He's the guy at school everybody knows, but no one invites to parties. He has confidence in spades but never quite gets the message: when he's told that if he fails another class he'll be expelled, he builds an aquarium; when Miss Cross tells him he's too young for her, he builds her an aquarium. He writes plays, he keeps bees and represents Russia in the model UN, but it's not enough.

The writing is tight as a drum:

Max: I like your nurses uniform

Man: These are O.R. scrubs

Max: O. R. they?

And the soundtrack is FUCKING AMAZING. Anderson uses montage and music to tell so much in so little time. Whenever I hear a song which features on the soundtrack to Rushmore ('Oh Yoko!', 'I Am Waiting', 'Ooh La La') I'm straight back with him, on his journey, discovering the pain of first love and the importance of friendship.

And Bill Murray is exceptional. There's a scene where Max, who has claimed his father is a neurosurgeon, introduces Blume to Fischer Snr in the barber shop where he actually works. I swear to God, Bill Murray's face when he is introduced to Max's father for the first time, well, it's the best face in cinema.

There's not a misstep in it, Max goes through a breakdown of sorts, discovering that love and obsession are different things entirely, something that anyone who fell hard as a teenager will know, when they look back as an adult on the glorious shame of being young.


Sorry Red Dwarf dweebs, and Brittas Empire apologists, Bottom is the best sitcom ever made… sorry, 'my favourite' sitcom ever made. When I incessantly play it to my girlfriend (female comedienne Sara Pascoe), she hates it. Maybe it's the farting, maybe it's the frying pans, I don't know, but they're not my favourite bits anyway.

The essence of Bottom is two guys with no money and nothing to do: it's Ritchie staring out at the rain genuinely believing he deserves better, but with absolutely no evidence to support that belief.

A lot has been written about Bottom and Beckett, so I won't repeat it here, and that has nothing to do with the fact I've not read any Beckett and only know him because of that famous photo of his wrinkly face, OK?

(That last 'OK' is to be said in Ritchie's voice, FYI.)

But from what I know of Waiting For Godot, Bottom is a companion piece. It's Godot's swearier, fartier, putrescent step-brother. It also is a prime example of how, comedically, in order to be foul, outrageous yet also likeable, you have to be a failure. Ritchie's sexism is only acceptable because he's a virgin. Were he a ladies' man it would be too unpleasant. His world of 'birds' and 'breasts' and 'doing it' would be impossible to stomach were it not entirely in his imagination.

And, as with Rushmore, find me a line that is wasted, and I'll give you a shiny pound coin. What keeps me coming back to Bottom ooh er!, ('seriously Eddie, I think I've got double entendre disease'), is part of me wants to be there with them, in that godawful flat, desperately looking for a way out, staring at the rain and scraping enough money for a pint of mild in a half pint glass.

Henry Paker's 3D Bugle and John Gordillo: Cheap Shots At The Defenceless

I went to see Henry Paker's 2010 Edinburgh Fringe show again and again and again. I absolutely fell in love with his turn of phrase and how he improvised. His style is so completely different to mine, silliness in buckets but comedically so clever!

Another Edinburgh show that really blew me away was John Gordillo's Cheap Shots At The Defenceless. His shows are so often like very well structured essays, they have an argument at their centre, and that argument is proved and challenged by both observational and anecdotal comedy. The premise of this show was that, increasingly, companies communicate with us far more informally than the people we know and love. And for me, who cringed at every letter from Virgin Media that started: 'Hey Buddy', or every kooky food packet that reads: 'Here comes the boring bit!!', it was absolutely delicious. The final Powerpoint montage was just wonderful.

Nina Conti

Every time I see Nina Conti I am left completely blown away. I like to think of myself as being very good off the cuff - if you've got a cuff, and you need someone to be good off it, I'd like to think I'm on the list.

But Nina Conti is phenomenal off the cuff, in someone else's voice, in conversation with herself, and an audience member, without moving her lips all at the same time. Also, when you see acts getting a huge response from a big audience like Nina does, it's often something other than the comedy that's gleaning that raucous applause, like something musical, bombastic, or something like crowd surfing, or pretending it's 'the maddest gig' they've ever had, kind of forced mayhem.

But with Nina it's actually her craft that's making people, of all ages and walks of life, actually wet themselves laughing. And that makes it remarkably authentic, considering that, by its nature, puppetry and ventriloquism is a show, an act.

Adam and Jo: Crisps/Pleasurewood Hills from BBC 6 Music

I'd always liked the Adam and Joe Show on Channel 4 as a youngster, especially People Place. I loved the idea of two friends, who know each other inside-out, making comedy together. But their bond really came into its own on the XFM and BBC 6Music shows.

I was an avid 'Pod Cat', and for three sweet years, their show was the soundtrack to many tens of thousands of miles driving to gigs. It was my first introduction to podcasts, alongside Kermode and Mayo, and it felt like they were my friends. A relationship I may have overstated in an email sent into the show which prompted them to remind listeners to keep their emails short!

With radio and podcasts, your relationship with the show is so personal, you're not a member of an audience, you *are* the audience. And it would be a lie to say this show wasn't an immense inspiration for wanting to do a radio show with Elis James.

Fun Fact: I played a very small role in the release of Sing Wars Vol 2!

The clips where Adam describes crisp flavours and a trip to a theme park called Pleasurewood Hills are the most I've laughed in the last ten years.

• The Elis James & John Robins Experience is playing 20 dates from the Norwich Playhouse on October 6 to London's Kentish Town Forum on November 14. Tour website.

Article edited on 10/9/16 to replace the last pick.

Published: 9 Sep 2016

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