Irish News Interview
Your new live show is called Robert Newman's New Theory Of Evolution. What can you tell us about the show and are you looking forward to trying out the material on audiences in the new year?
It's about how Darwin's theory of evolution has been hijacked by a reductive ideology which has left people with a narrow, pessimistic view of human nature, e.g. Richard Dawkins's 'selfish gene' and Herbert Spencer's 'survival of the fittest' concept ( which Darwin deplored). The show goes from altruistic amoeba and sarcastic Neanderthals to Prince Kropotkin and Buffalo Bill to argue that there is as much cooperation in nature as competition.
When is your new book The Trade Secret coming out?
April 2013, published by Cargo out of Glasgow.
Who was Sir Anthony Sherley and why did he inspire you?
Sir Anthony Sherley is such an extraordinary figure that I don't know why he's not more famous. Sir Anthony is a cousin of both the Earl of Essex and, on his mother's side, Shakespeare's favourite comedian, Wil Kemp. An English swindler and warmonger, Sir Anthony becomes Persia's ambassador to Europe. He is one of the first Elizabethans to discover petroleum, coffee and messenger pigeons. None of which interest him, but they do interest his teenage servant Nat Bramble, the novel's hero, who embezzles Sir Anthony's money and, with his friend Darius, sets off to find his fortune in the secret oil well under a ruined Temple of Mithras.
Writing Fountain At The Centre of The World seemed to be an enormous struggle. Was this one just as tough?
I try to convince my partner of the heroic nature of my Herculean artistic struggle whenever it's my turn to do the washing up or play with the child, but she's not buying it. And she's right not to, because the awful truth is that writing stories is an absolute hoot. The first draft of The Trade Secret was three times the length it now, purely because I was so much enjoying escaping into the world of the book. It was too nice having a little window I could climb through and be somewhere else entirely - especially when there was a sink full of dirty dishes awaiting my attention or water dripping through the living room ceiling.
You've been lecturing at universities this year, have you enjoyed it and do you approach lecturing in the same manner as your 'normal' performances? What kind of feedback have you been getting from students?
Yes, it's been a real privilege. Lecturing is like standup comedy without the laughs - very much my niche, you might say! So lecturing is the perfect fit! There is exactly the same deathly silence as at my standup gigs but without that all enveloping sense of shame and failure. So it's a win-win!
Your writing and comedy deal with some fairly heavy issues about which you seem to have amassed encyclopaedic knowledge. How the hell do you keep from becoming terminally cynical and depressed about the dire state of the world?
Faced with climate chaos, with the rise of corporate power and the inequality it entails, people are asking penetrating questions about social justice, about how we organise ourselves to protect the vulnerable from food and fuel insecurity. There's a lot of of inspiring action going on: UK Uncut, No Dash For Gas, the Occupy movement, or the urban agriculture and food coops in Glasgow - to name but just a few. Yes, the government cynically gives £3 billion in welfare handouts to gas companies while talking about welfare cuts for everyone else. And, yes, that kind of cynicism can become contagious. One reason why corporations give wall to wall coverage to, say, a rightwing cynic Clarkson is because to infect people with cynicism and depression is a tried and tested means of control.
Your last TV show The History of the World Backwards got some pretty savage reviews from critics. It was a great concept, were you happy with the way it turned out?
It was great fun to work with actors and art departments and to have props made, and to eat communal meals cooked by location catering. A great antidote to solitary business of writing or doing standup. I was happy with how it turned out. An excellent director and cameramen and art department made a shoestring budget look like inexpensive production. I also think there were some very funny performances from the cast, especially Richard McCabe and Colin Macfarlane.
What happened to your proposed book/TV show War and Peace 2/The Good War Guide?
The Trade Secret came along instead.
2013 will mark the 20th anniversary of your famous gig at Wembley Arena with David Baddiel. What advice would the Robert of today impart to the Rob of 1993?
I'd save my breath. He wouldn't listen. And besides, it's my teenage self that I am having trouble with. The Rob of early '80's, is my great internal heckler. He frames everything I do in terms of whether it is what the Clash would do. And never stops moaning at me for never having built a skateboard half-pipe in the basement.
What do you tell people when they ask you why The Mary Whitehouse Experience has never been properly repeated or released on DVD?
They seldom do. One reason it's never been repeated is that the first series' producer insisted on putting in all these topical gags about people I'd never of (Lord Rees-Mog, anyone?). These dull topical gags dated parts of the show very quickly, and have endowed the series with the shelf life of cheese. Most of the quality sketches,however, all the funny stuff we managed to save from the producer's attentions, is on YouTube and various other free sites anyway, so who needs a DVD?
Thought for the day?
Why is every panelist on Question Time a millionaire? Where's the balance in that?