Interview: Rob Newman

Wednesday 03 August 2005
reading time: min, words

As the wittiest and most verbose of the early nineties comedians, Rob Newman did the sensible thing to preserve his status and quit...

In the early nineties, when I was a teenager, I avidly watched a TV show called The Mary Whitehouse Experience. Perhaps when you are younger things just seem funnier, but I fondly remember the raucous laughter caused by TMWE being enough to make me physically fall off the settee because of such lines as “You see that Peter Beardsley… that’s your girlfriend that is,” were uttered for the first time. 

Then, as the wittiest, most intelligent and verbose of the early nineties so-called ‘Rock and Roll comedians’, Rob Newman did the sensible thing to preserve his status as a legend and quit! He chose instead a more reclusive life as a author and has since put out the novels The Fountain At the Centre of The Universe, Independence Day and Apocalypse Ciao. He also still keeps his finger in the stand up circuit, but it’s more politically-driven these days. We caught up with Rob for a chat before his recent gig at Nottingham Castle.

What was your favourite sketch from the Mary Whitehouse days?
”There was a sketch I loved called Let Him Have It, about the incidents which led to the hanging of Derek Bentley. We did the sketch live, gave parts to the roadies and it was quote madcap and music hall with loads of running about, shouting, falling over and the stage littered with props and debris at the end. It was like being a kid again.”

You took your stand-up show 'From Caliban to the Taliban' to America. How did that go down..?
”I did a US tour last year in twenty-six cities as well as three gigs in Canada. In some places, like Austin, Texas I did pure stand-up. That gig sold out a 500-seat theatre and it went very well. I got two encores and a Professor from a local University introduced me with a ten minute talk about my work. At most places I did a mix of reading from my novel 'The Fountain At The Centre Of The World', some spoken word and some bits from Caliban Taliban.”

In a previous interview, when asked about how you would vote you said “The self respecting thing to do is not to vote at all.” Can you explain what you mean by that?
Power has been privatised. The CBI and the corporate lobby and the financial markets always get to decide what the policy is going to be (big business friendly) and all the parties are the same. Change has historically always come from people outside parliament doing direct action and mass organizing. It has only very exceptionally come purely from within.

How did you feel about the 'Scribbling' TV documentary about your struggles as a writer. I found it really interesting, but sensed that it may have left you feeling quite exposed and vulnerable…
I’m glad you liked it. I never saw it myself. I can’t stand watching myself on telly.

I should have suspected as much from a man with no TV in his house. I take it you have no plans for an on-screen comeback then?
It’s funny you should say that as I have a programme on the history of oil, in development with Channel 4 right now (that's a scoop for LeftLion).

What was the last thing that made you laugh a lot?
Hmmm… good question. I think it was either some stray thought crossing my brain or listening to Richard Pryor talking about having a heart attack.

Do you believe in God?

What book are you reading at the moment?
The Berthold Brecht play Caucasian Chalk Circle.

Can you recommend one book that everybody should read? 
Lovers of fiction will love Middlesex by Jeffery Eugenides or To The Wedding by John Berger. Lovers of fact might want to take a look at the Schnews annual (‘Schnews at Ten’).

Are you a fan of Charles Bukowski or Hunter S Thompson? 
No, take away the myth and the legend of the holy drinker and the writing seems a bit thin to me. They seldom recognize the existence of other human beings apart from themselves and never know the first thing bout any of the places they find themselves in.

Who's the best new comic you've seen in the past year?
Daniel Kitson (well, he was new to me).

If they asked you, would you host the next Comic Relief and (if yes) how would  you do it? 
I’d do it by saying you can only give money to organizations dedicated to the overthrow of capitalism (if you want to end poverty then you have to, as Robb Johnson sings, to make the wealthy history. I’d also make a rule that no-one is allowed on the show who has more than £500 in the bank.

Do you and other political comedians, like Mark Thomas and Jeremy Hardy, ever meet up just to hang out and shoot the breeze? If so, are there more arguments or cuddles?
I truth I don't see much of them, except for at benefit gigs these days.

Do you wish you'd been more politically aware or active when you were at the height of your fame?
”And Catch 22 says if I sing the truth they won't make me an overnight star” The Specials, Gangsters.

Rob Newman played Just The Tonic at Nottingham Castle on 27 July 2005

Rob Newman website

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