After a gloomy start to the week, I spent the last two nights performing on the bill of Robin Ince’s School For Gifted Children at the Roundhouse, part of the Camden Fringe. To say it lifted my spirits would be an understatement: something about the backstage camaraderie, the flooded toilet, the lack of booze and the pacing up and down, the thrill of standing in front of an audience – with no microphone this time – combined with the confidence engendered by the knowledge that Robin Ince attracts a different class of comedy punter.
These were excellent, compact shows which did not overrun, both confidently sold out, and displayed the now expected mix of science, comedy, music and, yes, dance. It was further revenge of the nerds. And none of it would have been possible without Robin, who, as well as being a ferocious, brainy stand-up, has forged a second career for himself as curator, facilitator and host – at the same time learning how to be a dad. Since launching The Book Club in 2005, he has fashioned himself into a one-man comedy empire, often going unpaid or underpaid in his quest to include – and indeed favour – non-comedians on traditional comedy bills. An all-inclusive universe, driven by the engine of inquiry and knowledge and a bit of PowerPoint, evolving from the Book Club to the current School For Gifted Children umbrella, via various atheist-themed variety bills (the most notable being the Lessons and Carols For Godless People run at Christmas, in aid of the New Humanist Society, which returns to the Bloomsbury this December), Robin has helped turn men of science like Simon Singh, Ben Goldacre and now Marcus Chown into smartypants comic performers, stand-up lecturers, if you will, the sort a paying hardcore will now turn out to see. I enjoyed playfully informing Marcus, a gentle cosmologist who writes books about physics that real people can understand, that I am anti-science backstage last night. But that’s because I’m not, really.
Also on the Roundhouse bills were Ince repertory players Gavin Osborn, a fine singer songwriter, and Natalie Haynes, ever-vigilant observer of life, and me. I am not a stand-up comedian. I wouldn’t last five minutes in front of a real comedy audience, or at least not yet, but thanks to Robin – who is God, albeit a militant atheist God – I’ve been given the chance to develop routines about serial killers, the Mitford Sisters and The Poseidon Adventure, and now I’ve found a platform to demonstrate Secret Dancing, which was a joy. It was so much fun to explain it and then demonstrate its subtle moves, to the accompaniment of Mark Ronson’s Ooh Wee and the Sugababes’ About You Now – on both nights with a volunteer, Simon on Monday, and Rose last night: both courageous and committed and hilarious, and better than me at Secret Dancing. I’m afraid you had to be there. Robin even had me back on to finish last night’s show with a mass swayalong to Take That’s Back For Good. A fairly surreal moment in my life.
So, after last week’s bad vibes, I’m sending some good ones to Robin Ince. And will now plug all his forthcoming Edinburgh ventures and beyond with this link and this unclickable calendar, because comedy needs him, and he needs your support because he keeps agreeing to do benefits and give pocket money to half a dozen physicists instead of himself:
By the way, the photo at the top was taken in 2006 for The Day The Music Died when Robin still had brown hair. It seems so long ago.