John Robins: Into the real comedy zone
By Chris Cooke | Published on Tuesday 21 August 2012
A ‘TOWIE’ star may have stopped him from getting his big TV break, but that’s not stopped ThreeWeeks reviewers falling in love with John Robins’ comedy, and again this year for new show ‘Incredible Scenes’. Putting our “why’s he not on the telly yet?” frustrations aside, we questioned Robins on his comedy, his Fringe so far, and high scoring Scabble words…
CC: So, let’s start at the start – I think we first came across you when you were in the semi-final of So You Think You’re Funny – how did you first get into stand-up?
JR: My most vivid memories of childhood are of laughter. Isn’t properly getting the giggles the best feeling on earth?! At school my mind was just set to find the laugh. Nathan Waite once asked me if I “wanted a smack”, I said “no, I’m not that kinky”, he knocked me out but it was worth it. Twelve years later I was the one giving the smacks…laugh smacks!
CC: Your first big Fringe break, I think, was appearing in the Comedy Zone. What was that like – was it a good boot camp for the first full hour show at Edinburgh?
JR: Doing the Zone was a real coup, I was living in Bristol, totally unconnected to industry dudes, and there I was all of a sudden playing to 180 people with Donnelly, Wilkinson and Dodds: the big hitters! I MCed most of them and always enjoyed the thrill of improvising with an audience. I wish I’d been a bit more industry savvy that year maybe, but there’s nothing like being a young idiot.
CC: What was it like stepping up from a franchise like Comedy Zone – or the split-show you did with Carl Donnelly in 2008 – to do the full Fringe hour?
JR: The biggest challenge is that you have to create an atmosphere where people who have no idea who you are feel comfortable in a matter of seconds. Good hour shows are all about hitting the ground running, no MC, no crutch to lean on. So when it properly sparks it’s an incredible feeling, to have something that only you are responsible for that makes people laugh for an hour.
CC: Tell us about this year’s show.
JR: Earlier this year I got what I thought was my big break on a TV panel show. But then I was replaced by Amy Childs from ‘The Only Way Is Essex’ (a name I had to Google!) because she had a “better backstory”. If I can’t write an hour of stand-up about that then I have no business being here! Russell Howard has directed it too. It’s been fascinating peeking into his brain as he’s been tweaking with mine.
CC: How has it been going so far?
JR: The show has been a thrill to perform, but it’s been a tough month for a lot of people, I think, numbers-wise. Plus I don’t have an agent, so can’t afford PR or marketing, which means you’re up against the machines of big companies. I’m not against that, if I could afford big posters I’m sure I’d use them, especially as I’m pretty useless at self-promotion. I rely on things like this interview, and it’s much appreciated!
CC: Your reviews often comment on your storytelling ability as well as the great comedy – is that something you were aware was a particular skill before the critics started saying so?
JR: Weirdly for the first six months of doing stand-up I was very deadpan, but after I started compèring it was just a preposterous contrast. I would be all chatty and fun with the crowd and then suddenly become sullen to do a bit of material about death before the first act. Danny Buckler said to me at a gig “you’re better when you smile”, and I never looked back. Thanks Danny!
CC: Has Edinburgh become an important part of your year now?
JR: The. Most. Important. Part.
CC: Despite the best efforts of Amy Childs, you’ve done bits of TV and especially radio. Do you have specific ambitions in that domain?
JR: Well, I’ve done one bit of TV! I’d obviously love to do more, especially stand-up or something where I could create new stuff. I’d love to have done ‘Show And Tell’ – I have a DT folder decorated with Queen pictures that the world needs to see. I’d love to host a radio show with music (who wouldn’t) but only if I could co-present with Elis James. Having chats and banter with him has been one of the great pleasures of my life.
CC: What plans have you got post-Fringe?
JR: I have some very specific plans for straight after, but they are secret and not comedy related. After that I’m going to try and book my first tour from January-March 2013. Watch out for me if you live within 10-15 miles of a provincial arts centre! No sleep til Trowbridge! (That reminds me, I need to call The Arc Theatre in Trowbridge)
CC: I found your comedy CV online and it includes ‘specialist rock knowledge’ and ‘scrabble’ as skills. Tell us your favourite bit of rock trivia.
JR: I love it when my heroes are fans of my other heroes. I found an interview with Captain Beefheart where he quoted my favourite Philip Larkin poem… incredible scenes! Also, Van Morrison recorded ‘Astral Weeks’ in three days when he was 24. That puts everything anyone has done in Edinburgh into perspective!
CC: And what’s the highest scoring word you’ve ever played in Scrabble?
JR: My records show it was ‘DEBRIDES’ for a whopping 167 points. I’m a nightmare to play at Scrabble!. I always have the following argument…
Opponent “BUT YOU DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT WORD MEANS!”
Me: “IT’S NOT A GAME OF WORD MEANINGS!”
John Robins performed ‘Incredible Scenes!’ at Just The Tonic at The Caves at Fringe 2012.
Photo: Kat Gollock