'Newman's material also displays a precocious, restless, even tortured intellect' - William Cook
Although he is doing more political comedy these days, Robert Newman started his career with impressions of people such as Jonathan Ross, Phillip Schofield, and Ronnie Corbett. He later ditched most of these in favour of a string of iconoclastic characters, such as Ray (a man afflicted with a sarcastic tone of voice), Jarvis, and Professor F.J Lewis (of History Today) among others. He also did a lot of what he termed 'Comedy of Hate', along the lines of Denis Leary and Sam Kinison, but decided to give it away after once being booed off stage in Edinburgh after talking about all the things he could do to the National Youth Music Theatre with a coathanger (he thought they'd stolen his props). The other factor effecting his decision was that he thrived on the warmth of an audience, something which is evident in most of his performances.
Whilst writing for Newsrevue at the Canal Cafe Theatre he told the managers there he had comedy experience and so they let him on stage for his first gig - largely impressions and stand-up. He got a huge rush from the experience and followed it up with a second show at the Absolute Cabaret in the North Star Pub, Finchley, which didn't go so well. He persevered, however, moving on to the Earth Exchange (the first London comedy club to open after the highly successful Comedy Store), compered at the Punchline Club in West Hampstead and also in a room on Great Portland Street, London. Later he ran the Alley Club for a year and toured a lot with Alan Parker Urban Warrior, as well as performing at a multitude of other comedy clubs, including the notorious Tunnel Club.
Born on 7 July 1964, Robert Newman was adopted by a working class family and grew up in Hertfordshire. Although, like David Baddiel, he had a punk rocker phase during his teenage years (see the Wembley Video) Robert always wanted to be a writer. As he told Phil Daust of The Guardian: 'Books have been like parental figures to me, though not always successful ones'. Like his Mary Whitehouse Experience cohorts, he attended Cambridge University where he read English for 3 years. He described himself as an abstemious young man who didn't drink till he was 22 and was a University representative for Christian Aid. Whilst there he taught English to a Cantonese boy, worked in a remand home, and did a lot of babystitting. After Cambridge he and David Baddiel teamed up at a BBC Writers Workshop, bonding over a cricket sketch, they worked together writing for the BBC Radio 4 comedy show Weekending. Around 1988/9 Rob and David were writing most of Partrick Marber's material for Hey Rrradio, the BBC Radio show he compered. They were one of the first acts managed by Jonathan Thorday (Avalon Promotions) and with Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis formed the highly successful Mary Whitehouse Experience in 1989 which ran for 4 series (48 shows) on BBC Radio 1.
In 1990, when the show's ratings reached 1 million listeners, the show was moved from late-night to primetime listening. The radio series' popularity eventually prompted the production of a television pilot (in association with the Spitting Image production company) in October, 1990. The day after the pilot was seen BBC2 commisioned a series and The Mary Whitehouse Experience moved from radio to television where it ran for 2 series, achieving feats such as bringing the phrase 'That's you, that is.' into the vernacular and being the first television show to be reported to the British Broadcasting Standards Council for using the word wanker. The show also gave rise to various tours, videos (History Today and Live at the Shaftesbury Theatre) and The Mary Whitehouse Experience Encyclopedia. And it was also the genesis of History Today and more. (Mary Whitehouse, by the way, was a morals crusader).
After the end of the MWE, Robert and David stayed with BBC2 for the series entitled Newman and Baddiel in Pieces. It ran for only one series (6 episodes and 2 specials) and culminated in a special show, Live and In Pieces at Wembley. They were the first comedy act to ever fill the 12,000 seat Wembley Arena, making headline news. This show, on 10 December 1993, marked the end of their partnership. However, the video of the performance sold 800,000 copies in the first 3 days of its release and won an award for Best Comedy Video.
In 1994 Robert released his first novel, Dependence Day, which met with good reviews, made it on to the best seller list, and won him the Betty Trask award for romantic fiction. There was also an accompanying stand-up tour (which spawned the excellent Dependence Day Video). After this Robert virtually gave away comedy to read up on politics and write his second novel, Manners. Though he was seen, alongside Sean Hughes, in a cameo in the film clip for The Cure single The 13th. His association with The Cure going back to the Mary Whitehouse Experience and Newman and Baddiel in Pieces. He did, however, do secret gigs once a week or so, calling up comedy clubs for an unpublicised spot to quench his thirst for performing.
His official return to stand-up came on 16 April 1998 with a spot at the opening of the Improv Comedy Club, though he reportedly left halfway through his set when the drunken audience wouldn't settle or listen. On April 20th he compered a fund raising event at the Mean Fiddler Club to raise money for the families of striking Liverpool Dockers. Guests included Bobby Gillespie (Primal Scream), Mick Jones and Noel Gallagher. There was also another show recorded at the London Palladium that featured Robert, Eddie Izzard and Steve Coogan among others.
In June 1998 Robert started a 33 date warm-up tour in preparation for
the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, every show selling out despite there being
no advance publicity. In August he performed for 20 nights at the Assembly
Rooms, Edinburgh, to excellent reviews as part of the famous annual Festival.
All those shows sold out too, there were even fights for tickets. In September
1998 Manners was published by Hamish Hamilton. Esquire had
this to say about it: 'It's a fine novel; an elegant, lyrical, beautifully-
composed study in submission and resurrection. A triumph of will in every
sense - Manners' will to find himself and Newman's will to create.' October,
1998 saw the beginning of a 35 date National tour 'The Bound and Gagged
Tour'. The new shows have introduced another character - the 83 year old
Robert's first video release in five years came in September 2001 with Resistance is Fertile. Filmed at the Komedia in Brighton the stand-up is interspersed with various protest ads and anti-globalisation messages.
In the first half on 2002 not much was heard from the man, save the occassional
appearance for benefit nights supporting various causes. Robert was also
involved in a movement to boycott another Netslé sponsored event,
the Hay-on-Wye Literature Festival. Later in the year he started appearing
regularly at the Soho Theatre with a new show, From Caliban to the
Taliban - 500 Years of Humanitarian Intervention. It proved so successful
that the original October - December run was extended well into 2003. He, along with Mark Thomas, has taken part
in many anti-war rallies, even getting arrested in Whitehall.
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