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Many thanks to Stephen Carlin for his review:
Conor Hall, University of Ulster, Belfast Campus Student's Union, Belfast
Saturday, 6th May 2000
A casual glance at a newspaper review of the Cathedral Quarter Arts
Festival in Belfast brought to light a name I have not seen in the
press for some time. A seven night mini-festival beginning Monday
1 May, it would feature various guest speakers, artists, films and
comedians. The penultimate night would see, for me anyway, the welcome
return of Rob Newman. I have been lucky to see this man twice before,
both times with David Baddiel, in Belfast.
The big question for me was would the man be the same on his own
and after nearly seven years out of the limelight (from my perspective
anyway)? I had always regarded Rob Newman as the best of the four
Mary Whitehouse Experience (TMWE) team members (I liked the others,
dont get me wrong).
After tracking down the Conor Hall and buying my ticket I joined
the queue outside the building that Saturday night. The doors opened
and everyone made their way into the students union, taking whatever
seats were available. It was well after eight before someone got on
stage to announce that the bar would be closed at 8:45 and would not
open again until the interval.
Thankfully I had my drink and finally, at 8:50 pm, Rob Newman appeared
on stage. This first act of the routine lasted just over half an hour,
the second act lasted just over three quarters of an hour.
Rob Newman began by remarking on how posh the word "festival"
made everything seem - he talked about his recent tour in Paris. Rob told
a joke about the Longman Audio-visual French lessons of his school days,
a joke I remember from TMWE - but still as funny as ever.
Rob Newman took an interesting look at television and news programmes,
and his portrayal of Al Pacino as a TV news reporter was both funny and
spot-on. The audience was also introduced to his elderly neighbours, the
Lavenders, and their very sinister outlook on the world. Nothing is ever
simple with the Lavenders, making coffee with rat poison - well, accidents
do happen "if only I had your young eyes".
Speaking a little bit about himself Rob Newman pondered on what advice
he could now give to his teenage self. By various means, one night
Mr Newman performed such a feat and conversed with the 16 year old
Robert. They spoke about how their tastes and habits have changed
over the years, although it seems that Rob is cutting back on one
This was followed by his Traffic Lord routine and then a look at
the mayoral elections in London. Someone had referred to Ken Livingstone
as a "congenital oppositionist". Rob Newman then launched
into an excellent impression of the young Ken Livingstone and examples
of this defect he had been accused of.
There were a number of local jokes - such as how 15 years ago the
British Government wouldnt talk to Sinn Fein and were anti-gay.
Now, today a gay government minister is in talks with Sinn Fein. Rob
remarked on the fact that Peter Mandelson is not openly gay, imagine
if the government had used some much more open, maybe even a little
Regarding the problem of parades in Northern Ireland, if the Nationalist
council run the roads in Drumcree why couldnt they use the rest
of the year to build something there such as a Fun House? Then come
the marching season the Orangemen would find themselves marching over
funny pavements. The audience laughed at both these jokes showing,
hopefully, that Rob Newman understood that most of the people of Northern
Ireland can laugh at themselves and dont take things too seriously.
The second act kicked of with the popular return of Jarvis, who announced
that he was turning over a new leaf. After a few minutes of Jarvis it
was quite obvious that he was still the same wily rascal he has always
been. Newman dealt with a heckle as Jarvis, much to the delight of the
audience. There were many others jokes throughout the night. One thing
is certain, Rob Newman is still funny and still has an eye for what makes
people laugh. He still has a knack for explaining one thing, telling a
story (in this case about applying for a parking space outside his own
flat) and then ending that story, allowing the audience to see the punchline
just before the end.
There were so many more jokes and routines that I cannot remember
them all, although one routine did fall flat on its face. Even Rob
seemed to be struggling with his explorer character and rapidly jacked
it in, even to informing the audience that he was still trying to
find the voice for that character.
Overall, it was a good night out and I had a good laugh. It has been
a long time since I have seen the name of Rob Newman on television, radio
and on stage. I know he has been appearing here, there and everywhere
but I hope he returns to the limelight very soon.
to the top
This was the way the 2000 Edinburgh Fringe Festival site advertised the
Building-work at Santiago National Stadium recently unearthed a script
co-written by Ernie Wise and Noam Chomsky. We present the first performances
since Dario Fo's ill-fated 1974 touring production of Turkey, Burma, Indonesia,
El Salvador and Chile.
Performances: 13, 14, 15, 16, 17 August 8:25 pm - 9:55 pm
£10.00 or £9.00 conc Venue: Assembly Rooms 54 George Street
Many thanks to Lynn Gilmour for once again providing us with an excellent
review of Robert's Edinburgh Festival show:
Robert Newman - 'Resistance is Fertile', Scotsman Assembly, George Street,
August 12th - 17th 2000, 8.25 pm - 9.45pm
With a show title taken from a recent campaign against GM foods, and
ticket prices slashed, presumably as a stand against commercial exploitation,
one thing was certain - Rob wasn't here to make us feel comfortable or
give us cheap belly laughs. Long gone are the days of on-stage watercolour
painting and frock-coats. Rob, version Y2K, is all urban-combat (yes,
he was resplendent in a camouflage kilt, no less!) and 'though the long,
lank hair is still in place (but that hairline is receding) he has lost
his irony and has become much heavier - metaphorically as well as literally.
Although he fitted in a clever segment with old-friend Jarvis which got
the biggest laughs of the evening, it didn't gel with the rest of the
show which was verging on the fringes of becoming a political lecture
rather than the comedy show that most of the audience had no-doubt expected.
Rob is deeply passionate about the evils of the Monarchy, globalisation
and consumerism and recounted numerous tales of his involvement with the
riots in the City of London and Seattle. He told us how to abort flights
that we're on if we discover that political prisoners are being deported
on them, and he asked us to consider the millions of pounds of our money
which is wasted on munitions and genetic modification, whilst so many
millions of people world-wide still live in starvation and under political
dictatorships. All of this is indeed thought-provoking stuff, but the
audience wasn't with him. They started to fidget and one guy asked the
pertinent question of Rob, 'What's the alternative?'.
And therein lies the crux of what was wrong with Rob's show - he can
cite all the wrongdoings, but he has no solutions. Despite his intelligence
and passion he has no more power to change things than the rest of us.
The most touching part of the evening came when Rob recounted a mystical
experience where he got a chance to meet himself at 18. The younger incarnation
was disappointed at what 36 year old Rob had become and at all the dreams
which had remained unfulfilled.
I think Rob Newman is on a search. He is searching for truth, justice
and equality - all admirable things. But I also think that he's still
searching for himself. He is full of theories and ideas, possibly even
doctrines, you could say. Self-advancement is a good thing, but until
he has discovered who he truly is and has learned to find the irony in
the situations he talks about (which he freely admits is hard to do),
he may find that audience numbers dwindle. Political comedy doesn't sit
well at the best of times, but I really believe that if anybody can bring
Noam Chomsky and anti-capitalism to the attention of the masses it could
just be Rob
Newman....if he doesn't lose his way first.
From The Guardian, by Dave Simpson Tuesday, 15 August 15 2000
Assembly Rooms Music
There are two Rob Newmans. One is the iconic, Byron-beautiful lad who
told beery jokes at Wembley with David Baddiel. The other - the loftier
"Robert" - is the bloated and somehow damaged figure who lectures
us on environmental politics. Both alter egos are in evidence here.
Newman speaks about his younger self as a "backstreet driver of
the psyche" and refers darkly to mental illness. The fallout from
Baddiel has obviously transformed him, but when Newman is forced into
delivering saucy monologues from the Mary Whitehouse Experience, you wonder
if he will ever be able to move on completely.
The troubled comic's big dilemma is how to sustain politics when crowds
are yearning for beer and fag jokes. He pushes the crowd as far as he
can go (discussing the Reclaim the Streets marches, the Paris Commune)
before reining them in again with a killer punchline. This generally works
because Newman is a terrific storyteller, and has become a master of the
educationally hilarious one-liner. A GM food mutated by pesticides, for
example, is "the Shaun Ryder of the botanical world".
His challenge now is to make the politics as memorable as the punchlines.
He takes a huge gamble by closing the set with a message about corporate
fear of massed action that contains no humour at all, but Newman is almost
alone now in teaching us that comedy can be about much more than laughter.
Ends tomorrow. Box office: 0131-226 2428.
From The Scotsman, by Kate Copstick
16th August 2000:
I NEVER liked Robert Newman. As I take my seat in the Music Room, every
hackle I have is erect. Fifteen minutes into his show, I think Im
in love. He wears a camouflage kilt and bad socks, he is carrying more
extra weight than the favourite at Aintree and he is fabulous. He wanders
on stage puffing at the first of several semi-smoked cigarettes, and announces
that the act is still a bit new and experimental.
An hour with Newman is, without doubt, the best use you can make of your
head this August.
Actually, he reaches pretty well all the parts.
His is comedy that cares about something - and it has passion, intelligence
to the top
Many thanks to Lynn for passing this on:
Review from the Metro newspaper - Wednesday, 16th August 2000
Reviewed by Darren Hickey
And now for something completely different....
Alternative comedy used to live up to its name by being, well, alternative.
Today it has become the mainstream it once mocked. Hordes of young men
delivering pithy observations on their girlfriends' foibles isn't that
far removed from hordes of middle-aged men churning out familiar 'take
my wife....' gags. In such a world, we should be grateful for the return
of Robert Newman.
One quarter of The Mary Whitehouse Experience, he had three-quarters
of the talent and, after the admittedly unalternative comic pursuit of
writing a novel, he has returned to the Fringe with a show that is politically
incisive yet original and witty.
Mark Thomas has applauded Newman's ability to create comedy from vague
and uninspiring topics such as globalisation. Channel 4's anarchist in
residence is a good touchstone - Newman covers similar themes but in a
more accessible way.
Looking like a cross between Swampy and David Ginola he opens with an
apology for the experimental nature of his material. The apology proves
superfluous, however, as humorous routines covering the Mayoral race in
London and the sinister GM foods industry strike a chord with the crowd.
Newman is especially adept at identifying irony in the most unlikely
of places. He points out that 18 years ago Ken Livingstone was castigated
for advocating gay rights and asserting that the Government should negotiate
with Sinn Fein. Today, Peter Mandelson is the minister for Northern Ireland.
Never patronising the audience, he instead delights in sharing facts
with them, such as the revelation that an American company has patented
Basmati rice and is now suing Indian farmers for growing and selling their
An hour into the show Newman resurrects the Mary Whitehouse character
Jarvis, a posh pervert in a smoking jacket. This is done partly by way
of providing relief from the political material, but possibly also as
a sop to the fans who 'preferred his earlier stuff'.
Fans of Mark Thomas will relish this show while those expecting History
Today and Sarcastic Boy needn't bother.
By concentrating on creating intelligent and thought-provoking comedy
Robert Newman has provided a genuine alternative.
WHAT does the term "anarchic comedy" mean to you? The Marx
Brothers chasing each other around a cruise ship? Guess again. Better
still - go and see Robert Newman .
If your only experience of Newman is some distant memory of him filling
huge arenas alongside David Baddiel, you might be in for a bit of a surprise
Whereas he once performed crowd-pleasing routines to a teeny-bop crowd,
he now talks at length about the damaging effects of globalisation, corporate
terrorism and capitalist propaganda. You might think theres not
many laughs there. You would be wrong.
With a whole host of characters -including old favourite Jarvis, there
is plenty to amuse a more apolitical crowd. But the strength of this show
lies in the more challenging material.
Newman has developed a rare talent for getting laughs from serious issues.
There are times when the blend is far from seamless, with raw political
speeches merely topped and tailed with hilarious stories about his accidentally-sinister
landlords. Its the Mary Poppins technique - a spoonful of sugar
helps the medicine go down.
Yet, at his best, he is equally capable of making the medicine itself
taste sweet and moreish. Newman has some fantastic material on New Labours
smear campaign against Ken Livingston, for example, which is as funny
as it is insightful. There is a school of thought which suggests that
political comedy died the day Thatchers reign ended. The argument
is that todays politicians are so bland and comical that they hardly
need to be satirised. Yet just as where politics fail, anarchy rules,
so Robert Newmans brand of truly anarchic humour helps plug the
void in political humour.
From Steve Bennett, Ananova Alerts:
Intelligent comedy? Newman's your man
Robert Newman - Resistance is Fertile, Scotsman Assembly, Edinburgh
Rob...sorry, Robert, Newman is clearly a man with divided loyalties. On
one hand he wants to use his one-man shows as a soap box for the anti-capitalist
views he so passionately holds. On the other, he's well aware that his
audience has paid for comedy, not a political diatribe. It's a balancing
act he performs well, though sometimes the laughs dry up, and sometimes
the comedy seems shoehorned in - an unnecessary interruption to wheel
out his perverted character Jarvis being the most obvious example. But
when he's on form, Newman is untouchable. He has an almost mesmeric hold
on his audience, who absorb the thought-provoking politics safe in the
knowledge a fantastic punch line is just around the corner. Global corporate
greed is a tricky subject for comedy since the premise of the material,
though true, can be too absurd for laughs. Once you learn that a US company
owns a patent for basmati rice and is suing peasant Indian farmers, the
all-important suspension of disbelief is impossible. Aside from Newman,
Mark Thomas and Jeremy Hardy, there are very few comics willing to tackle
such topics. There are plenty of funnier shows on the Fringe, but if you
want intelligent comedy that is genuinely challenging, this is your man.
to the top
Robert Newman - Resistance is Fertile
Anyone who spends as much time consumed by thought as Robert Newman makes
either an excellent model for a straitjacket or a wonderful comedian.
Thankfully, this man is the latter. If you previously thought him as beauty
to David Baddiels beast, its time to think again.
Its been years since Newman and Baddiel headlined Wembley and while
Baddiel has gone on to near ubiquity his erstwhile partner has avoided
the spotlight. Can he still cut it? Course he can.
From The Independent, By Kate Bassett
Rob Newman, Soho Theatre, London 17 December 2000
Have you heard the one about the neo-liberal capitalist ideology?
Rob Newman is a brave man. Marxism is dead, isn't it? Politically-concerned
alternative comedy was pronounced passé long ago. And your
average crowd-pleasing stand-up wouldn't dream of bounding onto stage
and launching into a lecture on, say, neo-liberal free market capitalist
ideologies and the potential benefits of an anarcho-democracy. Let's
face it, the above list hardly has one instantly weeping with laughter.
But that isn't stopping our Rob, I'm (ultimately) glad to say. Since
recovering from his bust-up with David Baddiel and making a solo comeback
in 1998, Newman has been proving - increasingly persuasively - that forthright
political ruminations can be surprisingly tickling. Indeed, maybe the
time is finally ripe for him, with New Labour proving they can't please
all of the people half of the time, and with the general election campaign
It must be said, Newman's latest one-and-a-half hour show - a delayed
transfer from the Edinburgh Festival entitled Resistance is Fertile
- does at points turn Soho Theatre into a second Speaker's Corner.
One almost feels didactically hectored. Initially too, our host rabbits
away so hurriedly that it's a struggle to keep up - especially as
some of his sentences last longer than a Tory government.
But Newman mellows, and any tendency to rant is subsumed in an irresistibly
endearing, chatty style of address as he pads to and fro in his faintly
Maoist baggy shirt and combats. His mission to flesh out Light Entertainment
with intelligent, polemical arguments can be genuinely stimulating.
Moreover, his socio-economic aperçus are, of course, mercifully
livened up by punchlines. For instance, regarding the Government's
line that citizens should think twice before giving to beggars, Newman
ends with a wittily rebellious misreading, stressing that we're officially
advised to "budget our dispensable income carefully" as
"it could be spent on drink and drugs"
His mimed sketch about America's mass exportation of its culture
in the mid-20th century is also blackly funny. He throws imaginary
fridges and Hoovers across the Atlantic then lobs an invisible Buddy
Holly after them and watches him drop short of destination with a
little shrug. En passant, he quips that we should all join the Conservative
party because only 2,000 of their members will be alive by the end
of winter and then we could simply change all their policies.
Satirical caricatures and surreal fantasies also surface. Musing
on how Ken Livingstone has been declared a "congenital oppositionist"
by his enemies, Newman first raises an eyebrow at the medically dubious
diagnosis, then slips into a ridiculously funny impression of the
London Mayor as an insanely bloody-minded school boy. Firstly, tiny
Ken insists on donning his gym kit to learn French, then he stubbornly
addresses his games teacher in an oddly familiar, Gallic-going-on-double
Newman's popular character, the appallingly seedy aristocrat Jarvis,
then makes a thoroughly outré guest appearance, announcing
he's been fraternising with the homeless, and whispering that he's
acquired a taste for the bad dentistry of the northern runaway.
Getting more autobiographical and shifting from politics to personal
acquaintances, Newman launches into a delightful impersonation of
his local garage mechanic who philosophises on bemusingly random topics
with a fantastically veering Greek Cypriot-cum-cockney accent. Newman's
yarn about his doctor-friend who works at the Maudsley, London's top
mental hospital ("we've got the best nutters"), is also
pleasingly preposterous. It ends with a paranoid schizophrenic patient
being tailed on the streets by medics checking that he's cured of
thinking he's being followed.
Not everything works. There's a feeble sketch where Al Pacino is envisaged
reading the news headlines. Newman himself confesses he really must get
round to writing some material for that section. He also lost his thread
at the end of the show. But more often he deftly weaves running gags in
and out of seemingly wild digressions and his casual nattering is craftily
shot through with splendidly eloquent turns of phrase.
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