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2000 Reviews

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, don’t 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 particular habit.

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 wouldn’t 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 camp.

Regarding the problem of parades in Northern Ireland, if the Nationalist council run the roads in Drumcree why couldn’t 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 don’t 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.

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This was the way the 2000 Edinburgh Fringe Festival site advertised the show:

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 Box Office

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, Edinburgh
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

Robert Newman

Assembly Rooms Music Hall

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 I’m 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 and charm.

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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 native crop.

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.

From Jason Hall, Evening News:
Rating: starstarstarstar

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 there’s 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. It’s 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 Labour’s 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 Thatcher’s reign ended. The argument is that today’s politicians are so bland and comical that they hardly need to be satirised. Yet just as where politics fail, anarchy rules, so Robert Newman’s 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.

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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 Baddiel’s beast, it’s time to think again.

Jane-Ann Purdy

Robert Newman

It’s 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.

Jonathan Trew

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 heating up.

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 Dutch gibberish.

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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