Wednesday 23rd November 2011
We’re honoured to be interviewing Robin Ince to kick-off our Writer Spotlights. As and when we can, we’re going to be interviewing notable and successful writers and creative people who write to hopefully provide insight and inspiration to the community.
Robin is a man of many talents. A stand-up comedian, actor and most recently impresario, he started his TV career as a comedy writer working on The 11 O’Clock Show alongside the likes of Sacha Baron Cohen, Charlie Brooker and his good friend Ricky Gervais. Performing as a stand-up comedian since 1990, a notable feature of Ince’s material revolves around his ‘Book Club’ where he introduces audiences to humorous passages that he has found in second-hand books.
Most recently, Robin has been focussing his comedic efforts on rationality and science. He presents The Infinite Monkey Cage, a radio series on BBC Radio 4 with Professor Brian Cox. He is also collaborating with Cox on a set of live shows next month entitled Uncaged Monkeys, featuring various notable scientists, doctors and comedians including Ben Goldacre, Simon Singh and Tim Minchin.
As if that wasn’t enough, Robin holds an annual event every Christmas under the banner of Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People. Again, he has hosted many notable comedians at these events from Richard Dawkins to Barry Cryer. AND in the new year he’ll be start his new show, Happiness Through Science.
If you aren’t familiar with Robin, you might recognise him as failed interviewee Stuart Foot in the first series of The Office.
When did you decide that you wanted to get into comedy, what were you doing before and what were the first steps that you took?
I knew I wanted to do stand up or something like it from about the age of 14 – I obsessed over Robin Williams’ 1st album , the globules of stand up on BBC2 and Channel 4. I did a couple of gigs at university, then used to do stand up in a pub near Belsize Park with a sketch/character group called My Big Bottom and then I was runner up in So You Think You’re Funny, the rest is footnotes.
Is your interest in comedy inherently linked to your passion for writing and literature or is there a divide? Do you have a desire to write straight novels/material?
I think they are separate but one certainly informs the other. I read so much and then I want to share the excitement of what I have found out. I accept that I do not have the talent or patience to write fiction of any worth.
How did the idea for the Book Club come about?
I am a book obsessive, someone once described me as a bibliosexual – I am unable to walk by a charity shop however late I am without having a quick check on the bookshelves for something magnificent or awful – perhaps it all really began when I went in search of a book entitled Hobbies for the Bedbound (my grail).
You’re variously billed as a comedian, actor, writer and impresario. In which role do you feel most comfortable/happy?
Stand up both gives me the most excitement and the most self-loathing, I have tried to give it up but it is too late now
Who were/are your biggest influences?
The Young Ones, the Comic Strip Presents and Alexei Sayle all excited me a great deal as a teenager but even before then I knew I wanted to show off as a writer or performer (don’t know why, something in my childhood I imagine, some Rosebud or other).
Was there a key point where you feel you made a transition from being an amateur to a professional or do you feel that it has been a gradual process?
I think anyone who has seen me may not be sure that I am professional. For a long time I survived on Bulgarian wine and carrots while peddling whatever sentences came out of my mouth, I don’t think I felt a transition – the main change is the reduction in fear when opening a bank statement.
What advice would you give to your younger, just starting out self?
Stop worrying about other people being on TV when you are not, this whole thing may take much longer than you imagine but eventually you will be surprised by what you really wanted to do.
What’s the best advice that you’ve ever been given?
Sometimes during a bad gig you have to loom at the audience and think “would I like to have a drink with any of these people?”
Also advice not given but seen, how Alan Moore lives his life – in a terraced house in Northampton, not taking Hollywood money mainly writing, reading and drinking tea (with a chocolate malted milk occasionally) reminds me that trying to do what you want is more important than fabulous wealth – the attempt to balance security and creativity.
What aspirations and goals do you have that you’re yet to achieve?
I want to write a book about how rationalism can make you happy, sell more than 45 tickets when I play Kirkcaldy and be able to keep going roughly as I am for as long as I can.
Finally, desert island books: what five books would you take with you to a desert island?
One or other volume of JG Ballard’s Complete Short Stories, Kurt Vonnegut’s Galapagos, Richard Feynman’s Six Easy Pieces, Carl Sagan and Ann Druyan’s Shadows of Forgotten Ancestors a flickbook of my own making of Laurel and Hardy’s The Music Box.
For more on Robin Ince and to book tickets to one of his shows, visit his website.