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John Robins: Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

Championing the Bible, which he calls ‘the best self-help book ever… if you leave out the daft bits, John Robins has found religion. Or at least, he’s joining a backlash against all that smug, superior atheist comedy.

A sense of mortality can reinforce faith, and when Robins learned his cat was dying, the 29-year-old clung to the concept of Kitty Heaven. But his true damascene conversion took place under a hail of novelty cocks.

Compering a rowdy club night in Bristol, an especially well-armed hen party bombarding him with incessant penis paraphernalia, he suddenly saw himself through his disapproving father’s eyes. A hardcore Christian, Robins Snr is the sort of man who thinks Jimmy Carr is ‘the language of the gutter’ and who insists on saying grace in McDonald’s. No surprise he takes a dim view of his son’s profession.

But then so does Robins himself, who has a point about religion being an easy punchbag for some comedians, establishing straw man arguments based on the most extreme elements of scripture, simply to knock them down with showy grandstanding. Certainly, given the low level of influence it has on most British people’s lives, there is a disproportionate level of religious mocking in stand-up.

This moral high ground is a place Robins views with distaste, and he expands his gripe to Richard Dawkins’ supposed blinkeredness, street artist Banksy’s anti-capitalist hypocrisy and the girl he encounters who thinks she’s above watching television.

Still, there’s something dissatisfying about Robins’ analysis. Confounding pseuds is all very well. But since I last saw him, the former wannabe poet, who thought all you needed to be a literary success was a velvet jacket and a few rhymes about the Lord Of The Rings, has cultivated more of an ironic, sing-song style of delivery, referring to the audience as ‘dudes’ and describing someone’s mid-twenties as their ‘mid twents’ for example.

Adding a distancing layer of self-deprecation to almost every utterance, he’s light-hearted, playful company. But when he starts to get serious, the insincerity has been too firmly established and he comes across like a stroppy student awakening to his first activist cause.

Most of his irritations at least tell you what they personally believe. His fence-straddling conclusion that, regardless of faith or otherwise, don’t be a dick, ignores the fact that sometimes you’ve got to stand up and take one on the chin. Posturing is invariably more appealing than no stance at all.

Review date: 27 Aug 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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