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2003 Reviews

From This Is Bristol (Magazine Supplement with Evening Post)
by Kevin Emery, Thursday, 6th February 2003
With much thanks to Kathryn

COMEDY

500 years of material

Political Comedy. Two words that you might think would go together about as snuggly as chalk and cheese.

If someone says to you they're a comedian, you automatically think 'funny'.

If that very same person then says they're actually a political comedian, the word 'funny' does not come so readily to mind.

You have to think about it a little. A political comedian. What, no fart jokes, then?

Well, no. Unless Tony Blair breaks wind in the House Of Commons of course.

To dismiss political comedy as not funny though, is scandalous. Not only intelligent and biting, it's also well observe, and often under the laughs are points raised that make a hell of a lot of sense.

There is also a wealth of material to use. You only have to pick up the tabloids every morning and there is plenty of cannon fodder to play with.

This weekend The Comedy Box, at the Hen & Chicken, is hosting Robert Newman.

Described as being "the finest political comedian of our generation", Newman returns with his one-man show From Caliban To The Taliban: 500 Years Of
Humanitarian Intervention.

Newman, star of The Mary Whitehouse Experience, and latterday novelist, started his career with impressions of people such as Jonathan Ross, Phillip
Schofield and Ronnie Corbett.

He then teamed up with David Baddiel, and after writing for Radio Four, they teamed up with Steve Punt and Hugh Dennis to form the highly successful The
Mary Whitehouse Experience in 1989.

It was the first ever comedy show to air on Radio One, and ran for four series, totalling 48 shows.

The popularity of the show saw it moved from late-night to prime-time listening, and BBC2 eventually commisioned a TV series which ran for two series, achieving the feat of being the first television show to be reported to the British Broadcasting Standards for using some rather rude words.

These days though, he's doing more political comedy, and his From Caliban To The Taliban show is an overwhelmingly satirical look at history.

This is the story of a 500-year global terror campaign waged with goodwill to all.

It starts with a 1609 Bermuda shipwreck and Sir Francis Bacon's charming Advertisment Touching An Holy War, and ends up with the United States'
selfless good work in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq over the last 40 years, with a helping of Wordsworth in the Quantocks followed by Government spies
and Russia's Archangel and Filipino vampires thrown in for good measure.

His comedy has been described as being comedy that cares about something, with intelligence and charm.

So if clever humour's your bag, this is definately what you've been looking for.

* You can catch Robert Newman at the Hen & Chicken on Friday, February 7 and
Saturday, February 8. The shows start at 8.30pm, and tickets cost £10.

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From Venue 7 - 13 February 2003
With much thanks to Kathryn

THE MAIN EVENT: Robert Newman

"New Man Newman"

So what do you do when you're half of a dizzingly successful comedy act and you've just sold out Wembley? Obvious, really. You disappear. At least
that's what Robert (then Rob) Newman did in 1993. Mind you, he was yoked with David Baddiel at the time so who can blame him? Whatever. Post-Wembley,
the ex-Mary Whitehouse Experiencer hid himself away and started writing novels before making the first of a series of stand-up comebacks five years ago. Since then, the now crop-haired Robert has continued his love/hate with performing, threatening to chuck in the comedy towel again and then turning up to slog it out at Edinburgh or on lengthy tours of - by his former standards - surprisingly modest venues. This time he's out on the road with the snappily titled 'From Caliban To The Taliban: 500 Years Of Humanitarian Intervention', a political outspoken show about imperialism from the colonisation of Virginia to Dubya's current war-mongering. Heavy going? Apparently not. Newman leavens his blasts of activist satire with some sillier moments which include an allegedly spot-on impression of Johnny Rotten.

Robert Newman plays the Hen & Chicken, Bristol, on Friday 7th & Saturday 8th Feb.

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From Venue 7 - 13 February 2003
With much thanks to Kathryn

COMEDY PREVIEW: 7th & 8th Feb / Hen & Chicken, Bristol

Robert Newman

You'd never guess that Robert (Rob) Newman was a vetran of the mightiest comedy gigs of the 1990s. The erstwhile floppy-haired catchphrase king has
travelled a long way from David Baddiel and Wembley Arena. After that momentous event in 1993 (it was Baddiel and Newman's last performance together, amid a torrent of enmity and accusations), Baddiel joined forces with Frank Skinner and Newman went quiet for a few years. Around 1997 he re-emerged and re-invented himself. Gone were the impressions, catchphrases and characters (apart from the upper class homosexual, Jarvis) and in came a keen political direction, a satirical sensibility and an insistence that he was now known as Robert - not Rob - Newman.

Since last autumn Newman has been developing a brand new show, the uncommercially titled 'From Caliban To The Taliban: 500 Years Of Humanitarian Intervention', an attempt to review half a millenium of capitalist expansion and western powerplay. See? You're laughing already. One of the pleasures of his lecture-cum-gig is that it teems with interesting information. He quotes copiously from primary sources; the show wears its research on its sleeve. For instance, Newman tells us that there has only been one year since 1798 that the US hasn't invaded another country - then catalogues the events that year, 1892, seeking to explain the aberration.

It's heartening to see a stand-up who uses humour to elucidate a progressive worldview, though it remains to be seen whether one shambling stand-up preaching "the truth" to hundreds of people each week can still make a little difference.

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From Chortle, by Steve Bennett
Leicester Comedy Festival
February 10, 2002

As comedy titles go, From Caliban To The Taliban: 500 Years Of Humanist Intervention has all the pithy appeal of an Open University module.

But what it does tell you - if you weren't already aware of Robert Newman's output since he vanished from TV screens in the mid-Nineties - is that this show is just about as serious as comedy gets.

Indeed, this does sometimes seem more political history lecture that stand-up show. But just as you feel you ought to start making notes, Newman does manage to pull things back round to a joke. Well, most the time.

This is, of course, a fertile time for comedy with a conscience, though it is ironic it takes American military action to throw global capitalism into the spotlight, but Newman sets himself up as a one-man propaganda machine for the anti-war, anti-globalisation message.

His passion for his topic is as obvious as George Bush's motives - and it is that what drives the show through stickier moments when the show threatens to get bogged down in the overwhelming range of its arguments.

Newman has set himself an ambitious task - to pull together a vast range of incidents from the past four centuries (the title's a bit of a misnomer - he 'only' goes back to a 1609 shipwreck that not only sowed the seeds of capitalist expansionism, but also inspired Shakespeare to write The Tempest) to paint a coherent picture of the parlous state of the world today.

Such a wide-ranging brief requires more obscure references that the Encylopaedia Britannica, and this is probably the only comedy show that really could do with its own bibliography - and sometimes, there's an element of showing off to all this. Newman has a tendancy to throw in obscure information that serves more to impress how well-read he is than advancing his argument. Similarly, he has a love of using a long word when a simpler one would do the job just as well. It's not about dumbing down, but making a complex narrative more accessible.

It's not beyond him, there are plenty of instances when he demonstrates that accessibility is exactly what he can do, compressing whole arguments into penetrating one-liners in a flashes of tight brilliance. He also two decades of stand-up experience under his belt, which has given him an armoury of stage tricks to enliven his arguments.

Several times, for instance, he launches into the sort of impressions that started his career - mimicking everyone from Richard Burton to Johnny Rotten and Tony Blair to Officer Dibble. Challenging the world order is obviously a slightly better use of such vocal talents than standing at bus stops pretending to be Michael Parkinson, Dead Ringers please note.

Elsewhere, he conjures up wonderfully silly images, such as imagining Anne Hathaway as a bitter drunk, shouting abuse at tourists' visiting her cottage. It has absolutely nothing to do with the thrust of his argument, admittedly, but does break up the sermon.

Newman does lose his way quite badly in the latter part of the show, just when his argument should be coming together. Instead, he loses his thrust completely, wandering off into irrelevant, and unfunny, anecdotes about benefit gigs he's done, or his arrest while on demos - which sit impotently next to over-long expositions that need to be balanced by some comic relief.

These are distractions to a message that needs to be heard, a message that is in desperate need of some final flourish to pull the whole show together - something stronger than the rapping 'catering tortoise' he has currently chosen to use.

That said, this show is often fascinating - especially in its lesser-known historical notes such as America's investment in Nazi Germany or the Middle Eastern origins of the First World War - occasionally hilarious, and always passionate. Which isn't a bad combination.

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From the Bristol Evening Post, by Francis Harvey
Tuesday, 11th February 2003
With much thanks to Kathryn
star starstar

"Newman Needs To Dumb Down"

'Robert Newman - From Caliban To Taliban: 500 Years Of Humanitarian Intervention'.
- Comedy Box, Hen & Chicken, Bedminster, Bristol. - Friday, 7th February 2003

In their former double act, comedians Robert Newman and David Baddiel used to imitate dusty old historians - but, with his latest show, Newman has become something of a history professor himself.

He has followed an unusal comedy career. Originally a mainstream impressionist, he was in the teams of patchy BBC2 sketch shows "The Mary Whitehouse Experience" & "Newman & Baddiel In Peices".

He then published intellectual novels and changed into a Mark Thomas-style political comedian and activist, staying off stage for a few years before returning to face much smaller audiences.

This latest touring show is a far cry from - and may be an atonement for - the primitive corn of his early career. An overview of globalism, "capitalist expansion and western powerplay", it's closer to a humourous academic lecture than a comedy gig, despite being peppered with impressions, punchlines and asides.

Newman has rejected his previous trappings of fame and pin up status - though he's still handsome, with cropped hair and sideboards rather than his previous sleek bob - in favour of worthy campaigning and live intimacy. As he put it: "There's a special property about us all meeting in the same physical space together. That means I can brainwash you".

To be brainwashed by this show, you'd have to listen pretty closely to his densely-worded monologue. This was high-level, heavily-researched stuff, complete with academic attributions, statistics and dates which assumed more than a passing knowledge of history and current affairs.

While his ex-partner appears in the populist, casual "Baddiel & Skinner Unplanned", this intense display of learning could be titled "Newman Very Planned Indeed".

Wearing a short-sleeved pink-and-white shirt over a black sweatshirt, Newman flitted between historic places and dates, scoring points to back up observations such as that, since 1798, the US has invaded at least one country per year, except 1892 - "What went wrong?".

Frequent gags ("You know when those planes flew into the World Trade Centre? I forget the date....." and "The Plasterers' Revolt was in 1612 - but they'd probably said they'd do it by 1610".), impressions and set peices kept it listenable and fast moving, but Newman's sheer density of input made it seem rather disjointed.

Himself conceding his "word fatigue", he came across like an eccentric don rather than a streetwise Mark Thomas type. But he often aroused laughs.

Though he stopped short of smug self-indulgence, and though it was heartening to see cerebral worthiness in a comedy club, his message might reach more people - and have more impact - if he dumbed it down somewhat.

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From No Ripcord, by Peter Mattinson


Robert Newman - From Caliban to the Taliban: 500 Years of Humanitarian Intervention (Soho Theatre 14th Feb)

I like to think I'm not normally one to use the melodramatic, but we live in troubled times. The prospect of war looks likely despite the wishes of a few million in this country alone which brings to mind the words of a great man: "I've said it before, Democracy just doesn't work."

Many look back to the great Bill Hicks for a voice of sanity. It's not hard to see why. His thoughts on the first Gulf War still have an echo of truth, but constantly looking back isn't always needed. We have people here working round the clock, encouraging others to get up and take notice of the world around them.

"I hope the show makes people feel less isolated by the act that they have doubts and questions about our benevolent foreign policy they're not supposed to have." So says one Robert Newman. Yes, the Robert Newman from Mary Whitehouse and Newman and Baddiel in Pieces, not the former Norwich City full back.

"I hope people are emboldened in their natural urge to think for themselves." He continues "But most of all I want them to think that I'm dead clever and witty and that."

Based on his Valentine's Day showing in Soho, he certainly succeeds on the latter count. Putting in "three months of intensive research, rehearsal and solid writing" beforehand, it's an avalanche of information and facts about how illustrious leaders over the past few centuries have improved and enhanced our good world. Maybe.

Clad in a "Support Your Local Anarchist" t-shirt, Newman is a man never standing still, moving around the stage constantly like a mad philosophy lecturer trying to fuse his students with the spirit of revolution. Of course, when that's put alongside a routine which brings us a history of US foreign policy alongside John Lydon reborn as a 17th century urchin shipwrecked in the Caribbean, you know you're in for something interesting.

So yes, there's jokes. Funny ones at that. Over 90 odd minutes, you will swear you heard Richard Burton unable to (ahem) 'service' Elizabeth Taylor due to his frustration at being banned by the BBC, George Bush Snr and Jnr recast as Steptoe and Son and a giant rapping Catering Turtle. There's also musing on how long it took the patrons of that Moscow Theatre to realise the heavily armed people in Balaclavas weren't part of the show.

But on the whole it all revolves around what it says on the tin. So those of us expecting an appearance by posh perv Jarvis (last seen on the 2001 Resistance Is Fertile shows) are in for a disappointment. But, as Newman explains "On Resistance is Fertile I think I'd run into a problem: the broader comedy characters didn't sit with the rest of the material. I had come to a fork in the road.

"This was less true of sketches like meeting yourself as a teenager, as I was trying to knit the personal and the political. (They are all one after all: in a false society if people don't feel pretty strange that's pretty odd. And society is false because geared up to market diktats to the virtual exclusion of all else.) But even so, I want to stay in the same key throughout the whole song."

Which could prove hard given the amount of tangents he's capable of going off on. Informing us of the role Shakespeare played in the early colonisation of America, we're suddenly back to the Moscow Theatre as people (temporary) leaving the room lead Newman to wonder if going to the bathroom was a ploy used by hostages to escape. Indeed, at one point he has to check with an audience member to remember what point he was originally moving towards.

While other performers might see doing a show that bombards an audience with little known facts and political rhetoric to be comedic suicide, Newman isn't so bothered by such matters. "I don't see what I do as a career. That suggests planning and strategy.

"If I'd had a career I also wouldn't be skint. I hope always to surprise people. So many acts - particularly in comedy, are just shovelling out exactly what the audience and the breweries who sponsor the gigs expect of them."

And surprise he does. Going back to an earlier point, it's refreshing to hear someone else saying what you think about the Royal Family (He rightly answers people who defend the Queen on grounds she makes money off her land with 'It's our land, stole by theft, murder and the clever use of hedges") or American foreign policy. Which brings us to the biggest and most absurd laughs of the night. Quoting direct from the CIA 'Handbook' on creating civil unrest, we're told ways in which to incite revolution. Without giving away any surprises, let's just say turning up late for work could be more subversive that you could ever believe. At least if those shady fellows in dark glasses are to be believed.

On the note of America, Newman plans to take the show to the States later on in the year. Given his show contains a section in which we find out that the US has occupied in some way another country every year bar one since their Civil War, is he worried about doing the proverbial dying on his arse?

"I'm more worried about large, empty halls. Not too worried about negative reaction. I'll barely register as a blip on the micronometer. And it's hardly like Emma Goldman or Eugene Debs speaking out about the First World War and getting sent to prison under the espionage act. As it gets nearer however I'll probably start shitting myself of course.

"My main fear is about getting into the country. On my way to Panama last September I was held for three hours at New York airport thanks to those helpful police photographers at mass protests like Seattle."

Ah, yes. Unlike the kind of philosophers you might find down your Student Union on a Friday night have wax lyrical about how they will change the world and end up becoming merchant bankers, Newman actually does walk it like he talks it. Some may remember his coverage of the Seattle Anti-Capitalist protests for Channel 4 some years back. Given that the day after this featured that little march you may have seen in the press - don't worry if you missed it, our Prime Minister seems to have as well - I ask whether this kind of mass voicing of public opinion counts for anything?

"I think further action is necessary. RAF Fairford has to be shut down via a sustained campaign of non-violent direct action. From the leafy fields of Gloucestershire B52's will be taking of to murder Iraqi families in the first wave of 'Operation Shock and Awe'. The Pentagon is planning something that will make Cambodia, Laos, Dresden or the Tokyo fire-bombing of WW2 seem like a car backfiring."

Not the brightest picture of the future. But on a more personal level, there's the matter of his third book, out in September. The original aim for the tour was to promote it, but it hardly gets a mention. Time to rectify. So, what can be expect from The Fountain At The Centre Of The World? "It's set in Mexico, Britain and the US in 1999 and it's about a man called Chano Salgado who blows up a toxic waste pipeline and has to go on the run at the same time as the brother he has never met comes looking for him. It's about loss and hope, and ends up in Seattle at the WTO protests." Obviously not one for the Harry Potter purists amongst us, But it still typical Newman: a gloomy premise but with a hint of hope at the end, as with his shows - Newman does believe all is not lost and we have a chance at pulling ourselves out of this mess (see the end of Resistance Is Fertile).

Finally, given that No Ripcord is a music webzine, I venture to ask what sounds can be found pulsing out the Newman stereo system? "Dub reggae and The Clash. Prince Jazzbo. King Tubby. Althea & Donna. Lee Perry. Plus a little soul, some spirituals, Elvis Costello and the Cocteaus."

Go see the show: Have a laugh, have a think. They're both as important as the other.

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From the Evening News, by David Pollock
Thursday, 27th February 2003

Newman for all seasons has hard edge

Robert Newman: From Caliban to the Taliban, Brunton Theatre

THAT billing at the top of the flyer for this show was probably the most immediate giveaway for what we had in store for us last night. No longer is it Rob Newman, one quarter of cheeky, student-friendly humorists the Mary Whitehouse Experience and one half of the equally soft-core anti-establishment - yet profoundly successful - Newman and Baddiel.

Instead, "Rob" Newman is now, and has been for the past ten years, "Robert" Newman; novelist, political commentator and activist, and man of letters about town. And still a stand-up after all these years, despite repeated threats to quit.

That’s not to say he’s still dressing as an old geezer and muttering "that’s you, that is", or other such funny-at-the-time inanities. For, his latest show is subtitled 500 Years of Humanitarian Intervention, which sounds like the sort of thing that students of Politics and History should be taking a pad of A4 along to, and hoping to glean a quote or two for their dissertation from.

Newman’s appearance doesn’t exactly disabuse you of that notion. Dressed casually and with hairline receding, yet emanating the vague air of someone who’s made something of an effort because he’s going to be speaking in public, his bristling intelligence coupled with an absent-minded, tangent-loving delivery gives Newman precisely the appearance of the trendy new history teacher on the block.

Yet, despite the fact that the man who once infamously helped sell out the 12,000-seater Wembley Arena is now faced with a Brunton Theatre, there is absolutely no intimation that Newman is a washed-up figure who is embarrassingly playing the "comedy for intellectuals" card. Quite the opposite, in fact - in this era of Mark Thomases and Michael Moores (both of whom he name-checked here), his topical stand-up show-cum-factual talk-cum-theatrical monologue is quite firmly balanced on the cutting edge.

To sum it up, what Newman tries and succeeds in doing is detailing the "highlights" of the West’s (and particularly the United States’) interventions in the affairs of other countries and regions. Particularly those, coincidentally, with some sort of worthwhile strategic, political or financial merits - from Bermuda in the 17th century, to Nicaragua in the last century, to Iraq in the here and now.

If that all sounds a little too dry for some, never fear... there are gags aplenty, also. Although much of the material admittedly writes itself, with Newman only needing to bring an eye-rubbingly incredulous reaction to the many follies committed by those supposedly educated people who have held power in the world over the centuries.

Did you know, for example, that ripping seats on public transport, blocking up toilets and making prank hotel reservations were CIA-approved methods of anti-government insurrection in Nicaragua?

Elsewhere, he executes a veiled "Greatest Hits" riff by lending his History Today voice to every faceless, stuffy bureaucrat he wishes to chastise, and does a pitch-perfectly smarmy Tony Blair that really needs no introduction. There’s also the occasional venomous outburst, such as a barrage against Royalists who argue the Queen makes most of her money from her land holdings - "Our land, I think! Gained by theft, murder, and the clever use of hedges".

The ultimate message is simple - that, in the world’s current state, we really should learn from the mistakes of the past. Hopefully, as he’s promised, Newman and his show will be back for the Festival to update us on how our leaders are doing - after all, he proved here he’s an important voice (comedic or otherwise), and material this sharp, informed and immersed in feeling deserves the widest audience.

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From the BBC Collective, by Chris Moore
Friday, 27th February 2003

From long-haired comic pin-up to short-haired comic politico

It’s the early 90s, comedy is “the new rock ‘n’ roll” and four young fellas known as The Mary Whitehouse Experience are bigger than The Beatles. Rob Newman and David Baddiel can cause student unions, and teenage knickers, to erupt with joy when, in the guise of two crusty history professors, they let rip a childish comparison and utter the phrase, “That’s you, that is.”

What a difference 10 years makes. Baddiel let Frank Skinner call him Dave, played down his Cambridge degree and lived the life of the New Lad on lucrative prime time. Newman, meanwhile, changed his name to Robert, hung out on anti-capitalist demos with Mark Thomas and wrote a couple of thoughtful novels (1994’s Dependence Day and 1999’s Manners).

Newman is making something of a return at the moment, though certainly not to the mainstream – his output representing a multi-platform critique of global capitalism. His new novel, The Fountain At The Centre Of The World, set against the backdrop of 1999’s WTO protests in Seattle, tells the Tale of a Mexican worker on the run whose long lost brother “comes searching for bone marrow”.

In terms of his stand-up output, he’s even filling the shoes of the aged history professor that made him famous. His new show, From Caliban To The Taliban – 500 Years Of Humanitarian Intervention, is a painstakingly researched tale of capitalist expansion and America’s global terror campaign waged “with goodwill to all”. Few stand-ups have attempted to create causal links between a 1609 Bermuda shipwreck and US adventures in Guatemala, via Shakespeare and Sir Francis Bacon. Hardly a laugh a minute you might think, but Newman, who plans to take the show to the States, has managed to pepper this unlikely comic dish with the endearing gags that made him famous in the first place. How has he found skirting that joke/lecture knife-edge? “Blunt…”

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From The Sunday Times by Tim Abrahams
Sunday, 2nd March 2003

Critical guide: The review: Newman converts with satire and cynicism

Rob Newman: From Caliban To The Taliban, Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh
star starstarstar

Up until very recently, I was all for the war, labouring under the belief that I should support the removal of a brutal despot, no matter how suspect the real reasons behind the invasion actually were. I watched the demonstration on television, pleased that my generation had found an issue that it could unite around yet dejected that I couldn’t take part because I didn’t agree.

It has taken an evening with Rob Newman to change my mind. Yes, that bloke out of The Mary Whitehouse Experience who made my eight-year-old self fall off the sofa with laughter when he said the words “your mum’s bra” has succeeded where miles of newsprint and the exhortations of my friends have failed.

Preaching to the converted has always been the great problem of the satirist, particularly those of a modern left-wing bent. Together with fellow comedians Jeremy Hardy and Mark Thomas, Newman finds himself standing with the corpses of the British left dead around him. Thomas has practically given up being a comedian to become an investigative journalist. Hardy is still one of the best satirical stand-ups in Britain, but you wonder how long he can continue doggedly kicking along in isolation. I have seen both comedians recently and found that nodding was frequently as common a response as laughter. It is difficult for satire to stay fresh in a climate of self-justification. With the war providing a focal point for dissent, maybe that is about to change.

Rob Newman’s own conversion to the lonely role of long-distance left-winger was a late one. Nowadays you can’t imagine how such a passionate and chaotically brilliant comedian could sit in the same room as the dreary David Baddiel, let alone write jokes with him. For a long time, though, that is exactly what he did. Perhaps his Damascean conversion came after the bloated farce that were the Newman and Baddiel Wembley Arena gigs. Perhaps it came after his first novel bombed.

Whatever the reason, let us be grateful because it has given us a comedian who can voice our fears, raise the ante and gives us a good, long, dark laugh.

For about 15 minutes of Newman’s show he is the funniest comedian I have ever seen. Elsewhere he is a glorious mess: still fascinating, still interesting, but somewhat lost. The basic structure of his piece is a history of empire building. Factually it’s extremely dense. He quotes from memory US foreign policy documents written in 1945. At one point he furnishes us verbatim with a whole section of Francis Bacon’s An Advertisement Touching a Holy War. It’s literate and smart but it’s also endearingly chaotic and rambling.

Before he met Baddiel, Newman was touted as Britain’s best new impersonator. He now uses that skill to give you the best Blair you will ever see as well as a fine Johnny Rotten and Winston Churchill.

There are times when his show is poorly delivered. With such fantastic material, it is odd that Newman is nervous where he was once manic. He takes far too long to warm up. He pauses. He forgets. Yet anyone who takes on the whole of western history in a two-hour stand-up act is going to find packing it all together a little tricky. But, when he hits his stride, I can’t help but thinking that this is what watching Lenny Bruce must have been like.

Like Bruce, Newman has bags of heart behind the cynicism and he isn’t interested in simple point-scoring. Dubya is such a juicy target that most comedians can’t get beyond him. If they do, it leads into Yank-bashing. Newman dives into the murky world beyond. All it took was one joke about an American General in Nicaragua and I changed my mind about Iraq. I had expected to be unmoved by Rob Newman but I ended up a convert.

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From the Paramount Comedy site
review by MB, date uncertain (March?)


From Caliban to the Taliban - 500 Years of Humanitarian Intervention
star starstarstar star

As catchy titles go, this one takes the biscuit. In fact it takes the whole pack. But don't let the subject matter the title suggests put you off from seeing one of the nineties best comedians back in his natural habitat - on stage.

Newman first hit British TV screens in 1991 as part of The Mary Whitehouse Experience (alongside David Baddiel, Hugh Dennis and Stephen Punt). He then joined forces with David Baddiel to form the imaginatively titled Newman and Baddiel. Over the next few years, the pair had a hugely successful TV series and national tour that included being the first British comedians to play and sell out Wembley Stadium.

Since the late nineties Rob Newman has turned his back somewhat on the comedy scene that earned him his spurs to focus on writing and politics - which he had flirted with earlier in his career. It's been a long time since we've seen Newman on our screens. As I sat with the packed audience eagerly anticipating his entrance I wondered how Newman would have changed. His old comedy partner David Baddiel has matured in the public eye from a young unshaven football-loving insomniac to an older unshaven football-loving insomniac father of one.

Yet, as Newman strolled on stage to an eruption of cheers it became clear that it's just like meeting a relative you haven't seen for a while. The face is vaguely familiar from old family snaps but as soon as you meet them again, it's like they've never been away. Looking like a member of The Levellers in an outfit crossed between an English teacher and an eco warrior, Newman's act - which relates an un-blinkered view of the history of American capitalism, globalisation and the corruption of power - offers as many moments of shaking your head in agreement at the injustices that have gone before the current situation in Iraq as there are genuine laugh out loud moments.

With his deep booming voice, Newman at times recites whole chapters of famous and not so famous political speeches and rulings apparently verbatim - it's like being in the presence of Johnny 5 from Short Circuit - you can almost hear his brain screaming 'Input!

Need Input!'. It's certainly a different version of history than the GCSE examination board saw fit to teach us. At times the heavy tones of the show do get a bit much but these are quickly abated with a hilarious allusion to popular culture.

If one were to compare the Mary Whitehouse Experience troupe to the Beatles, on the strength of this show, it's evident that Newman was the John Lennon of the group. In fact, he's the John Lennon of the comedy world. Along with Mark Thomas and America's Michael Moore, Newman completes the holy trinity of political comedians currently proving the thorn in Bush and Blair's side. - reviewed by MB



With much thanks to Richard Logan
Here's his review of one of Robert's recent Soho Theatre shows

From speakers at the front of the stage Dub sounds feed the audience's imaginations, preparing them for what they all hope to be a great show from one of the decade's brightest British comedians, Robert Newman. 8 o'clock arrives and from the main entrance Newman takes to the stage stroll dancing, a big smile on his face looking out at the crowd of 80 he has gathered before him. Dressed in a black waist jacket he obviously owned during his slightly more chubbier phase, Newman is dressed to kill.

The music stops as does everybody's conversations. "Hello and welcome to From Caliban to Taliban - 500 years of human intervention" That's it, the crowd are fixed. The audience is very mixed, some are hangers on from the "Mary Whitehouse Experience" days, some are younger and newer followers of the man. Never before have I seen such a vast mix of age, social standing and experience at a comedy show. I remember thinking "I hope this works out for him." If anyone deserves it it's Newman.

The show goes off almost without a hitch, he seems calm and comfortable, at times deep in thought and reflective, he obviously has not lost any of the flare that once made him the star he was. What struck me most about the performance, other then the well researched and fluent material, was his ability to hold the audience, hand-feeding almost each and everyone of them the information he wanted to get across. Do we need a Rob Newman in the world? In my opinion we definitely do and I look forward to seeing the man's career grow in the future.

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This from The Guardian, 21 May: ...check out The Mary Whitehouse Experience (BBC7, 11pm), first broadcast in 1989. This was once cutting-edge stuff, featuring one of the smartest British comedians of the past 20 years, Rob Newman, alongside David Baddiel, who should never have been allowed within 100ft of a microphone. Does it still work?


From BBC Coventry by Paul Bradley
9th June 2003

A political show based on an incredible memory

It's been over five years now since Rob Newman, along with David Baddiel, played in front of 20,000 plus people at Wembley Arena.

So what has he been doing since then? Well by going from this show, a heck of a lot of research.
The show detailed a number of events spanning the past half a millennium, detailing a history of "capitalist expansion and western powerplay".

The idea came to him while he was driving through Albuquerque in New Mexico, listening to one of the local radio stations. An American man was complaining about a minority group moving into his neighbourhood, even though the Americans had in some ways forced that group to move to the US. This, he said, was an example of globalisation requiring humanitarian intervention.

Rob's monologue was a stream of detailed facts, delivered at such a pace he was almost like an excited child telling their parent about something special they had done that day. Rob's ability to remember such amounts of information was impressive, although it was almost akin to a sage on his soapbox preaching a sermon of the true word.

The show was packed full with the wit and humour you would usually associate with Rob Newman, with quips like the British Army being so poor, a major had to: "try and cheat on Who Wants To Be A Millionaire."!

The capacity crowd in the Arts Centre Studio was informed that since the American Declaration of Independence, there has only been one year where the US has not invaded a foreign country. After investigation, Rob discovered two possible reasons could have been the publication of an Oliver Hardy cartoon - or perhaps even the invention of the fig roll!

A great show

Rob Newman gave a great show and as well as all his historical humour, he delivered many a fine impression of people from Johnny Rotten to Tony Blair, Richard Burton and, perhaps the best, George Bush Senior and Junior, speaking in the guise of Steptoe and Son.

He did lose his way at times, understandable because of the pace of the show - and especially when heckled by a moth! He wasn't quite up to the same standard of political satire as someone like Mark Thomas, but he was certainly not far off.

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From The Scotsman, by Kate Copstick
16th July 2003
With much thanks to Nicky

Critic's choice: Comedy

Robert Newman
George Square Theatre, August 22-24

I am not big on idols. I'm a critic, after all. But I have to admit to being wholly in thrall to the talent, intelligence, humour and passion of Robert Newman.

He is the one performer at this year's Fringe I would happily see every night. He makes me laugh, he makes me think and he makes me care. This show is breathtakingly, heartbreakingly, goosepimplingly brilliant.


Hugh thanks as always to our longest serving reviewer, Lynn Gilmour, for another excellent review
24th August 2003

Review of Robert Newman - ‘From Caliban to the Taliban - 500 Years of Humanitarian Intervention’
George Square Theatre, Edinburgh - 23 August 2003

By Jove, I think he’s cracked it! Why, Lord Robert of Newman (a member of the democratically elected socialist peerage, not the dated and non-egalitarian Monarchical system – obviously) has managed to blend world history, politics and humour into a seamless hour and a half of topical comedy.

The thesis of ‘From Caliban to the Taliban’ is, as Newman confessed, ambitious in its scope, but aims to show how the USA and Britain’s current treatment of ‘lesser’ nations and their people is part of a chain of similar behaviour by the so-called great nations, one which has been going on for centuries.
Like any politician of note, Newman has clearly done a lot of work on getting his ideas in order since his last foray to Edinburgh a couple of years ago, which was less successful, largely because the occasion turned into a rant, offering no solutions or any levity. This time, he has realised that new theories often receive a warmer reception if they are fed nonchalantly to their audience; an aside here, an anecdote there, before ramming the point home. And the approach worked. Stream-of-consciousness though they may have appeared, Newman’s locomotive-speed historical journeys, taking us from the realms of 17th century religious radicals, deported tobacco workers and rich, corrupt landed gentry, through to their modern-day successors, were all carefully researched, learned and delivered with confidence. It seemed at times that Newman’s brain was almost working faster than he could get the words out, so full of thoughts and facts was he.

Master of reinvention that he is, or rather, that he appears to be, Robert has obviously done some serious thinking over the past months and worked out that his talent lies in being the populist face of the alternative world. Though being a poster boy for the radical movement would surely be enough to find yourself spat out by the underground, Newman has now learned how to cleverly utilise his mainstream media profile and, through humour, has been able to create an intelligent but also, crucially, an engaging show.

So it is that the audience’s defences are nicely lowered when the hard-hitting facts about the cruelties of Superpower nations are eased into the conversation. This atmosphere makes the statistics that Newman reveals even more shocking. For example, between 1850-1950, there was only one year that the Americans didn’t invade another country. But then, like the best University lecturer you never had, instead of beating the point home until it is dead, Newman instead ponders the big events of that year, 1892, which would have distracted the Americans from attacking others; how about the publication of the first ever cartoon strip?

The apparent randomness of politicians’ shifting priorities continues even today, as Newman mercilessly imitates Messrs. Bush and Rumsfield, not to mention capturing the smug tones and insane gleam in the eye possessed by Tony Blair. And as the laughter comes, another fact: the Bush family’s close connections with a large financial company which held shares for Osama Bin Laden.

The world is a cynical, cruel place, indeed a million miles from Caliban’s idyll but, even though as lone individuals we seem powerless to change the face of globalisation, Newman gives us hope that actions can gradually have an effect. Reading from a list compiled by the CIA of activities to watch out for, which could be used by radical groups as ways of fucking with the system and ultimately overthrowing governments, Newman revealed that America’s ‘finest’ intelligence experts feared some random incidents. If you want to cause chaos, there’s always the option of blocking toilets with sponges, or making fake hotel reservations. Even going into work late was seen as a potential menace. Next time you pull a sickie, Newman says, remember to watch the news; the nation could be thrown into a state of disarray.

A believer in direct action himself, Newman recounted his arrest (twice in a morning, surely sufficing the Equity minimum) for a lie-down protest in Whitehall, as well as his participation in the huge anti-war march earlier this year. But again the angry young man moved aside, as mature Robert diffused the polemic by adding that he was terrified as six policemen lifted him from the pavement during his arrest, and that his enthusiasm on joining the march was soon frayed by listening to the incessant whistle-blasts from his neighbouring marchers. Newman’s audience, it has to be noted, were amused rather than irritated by his three insightful songs, played lovingly on the ukulele (a much under-rated instrument, it would seem).

As the lights came up and the solitary figure dressed in black left the stage, there was a sense of optimism in the air. Even though the world is led by egomaniacs who try to cover up their bad behaviour and are destined to repeat this ad infinitum, claiming to be acting in the name of all that is just, Robert Newman has given us our own list of things to look out for, as well as showing us that we can make some difference. After all, every crowd begins with just one person.


Hugh thanks to Kathryn for allowing us to use her review
Comedy Box,  Hen And Chicken, Bristol.  
Thursday 27th November 2003 - Saturday 29th November 2003.

Robert Newman - "From Caliban To The Taliban"

These days Robert Newman is described as a writer (his latest novel has just been released) political comedian and activist. A far cry from the days when he was part of "The Mary Whitehouse Experience" and one half of the duo "Newman And Baddiel".  

Like each of us as we travel through life our perception of the world changes, both personally and globally and Robert is no different.

Tonight we are given a history lesson in the hope that we can try and understand what is happening in the world today. The past can influence the present but can we learn from our mistakes to create a better future? Who knows.  This all may sound a little too serious but with Rob's spin on events we can relax and enjoy a few laughs together.

The show is called "From Caliban To Taliban - 500 Years Of Humanitarian Intervention" and covers 500 years of history, goodwill (tongue firmly in cheek) and global terrorism. What we need to understand is social change, world economics, globalisation and its effects. And of course the happy ending that the United States good work in the world has made it a better and safer place for democracy and given us optimism for the future.

Its not all doom and gloom. Far from it. We have talking turtles popping up in snack vans, a Mexican festival where everyone dresses up as Osma Bin-Laden and why it's the safest place for him to hide until he gives himself away with his techno dancing.

We also find out that there was one year the USA didn't 'invade' another Country, 1892, too many reasons to mention but lets just say they were too busy at the time. And we got a speech in Spanish - no I didn't understand a word of it either!

There are loose connections with the films "Back To The Future" and "The Terminator", a musical interlude, - Pop Idol he is not - and a number of well delivered impressions/parodies including Tony Blair, Bob Dylan, Joe Strummer, Johnny Rotten and Steptoe & Son. And for us Bristolians the occassional Cary Grant voice was thrown in for good measure, mainly due to either being side tracked or loosing the plot a couple times during the show. But the true professional he is, Robert soon made his way back onto the right road again.

For some the show could have been thought provoking but for others a great night out.

Kathryn Courtney-O'Neill

**"The Fountain At The Centre Of The World" By Robert Newman is available in all good book shops.  Published by Verso. ISBN 1-85984-573-8

 


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