Edinburgh Fringe 2019
John Robins, 2017 Edinburgh Comedy Award winning comedian returns to Pleasance with self-lacerating soul bearing as he yells into the well. His show is appropriately called Hot Shame.
Better known as a radio presenter and for his comedy bromance with Elis James, John has not developed the stand up following of his peers. Although he started performing in 2005 and was part of a group of rising comedy talent, in terms of recognition John always seemed a little behind the others.
Not anymore. This show was a master class in stand-up comedy.
To a sold-out house in Pleasance One, John takes to the stage in a white tee shirt, skinny jeans and trainers. His appearance is that of an open, vulnerable man. It lends an honesty to what comes next.
A spotlight shines on a table, where rests a large book. He picks it up and reads, it sounds like a diary entry reflecting in his inner mental narrator. And we laugh. The light goes off, he returns to centre stage and we begin.
If John were to update his social media status, in relation to his world, it would read ‘It’s Complicated’. This is a revealing show, we are travelling through John’s mental landscape. We meet the inner voice that seems to constantly analyse everything he thinks and does. Comedy seems, perversely, a way to manage it’s relentless chatter.
Many of the stories feature himself as the butt of the joke. He is the comedy. Many comedians talk about themselves in detail, but seem to make the show I,I,I, somehow John avoids that. There is never a feeling, a sense, that there is ego at work. This feels as though it is an honest personal revelation.
To be a successful stand-up comedian, you are generally significantly above average intelligence. It is a genre that requires keen observational and analytical skill, advanced language and storytelling ability, quickness of thought, empathy, self-awareness and the mental complexity required to make odd connections between disparate elements.
Without doubt John is a very clever comedian.
This is an exploration of his overthinking, his relentless self-critical appraisal, constant worry, a relentless sense that John is on the edge of impending disaster. This sounds grim but it is far from that. Everyone in the audience would recognise John’s symptoms, they understand them, even if they don’t share them to the same degree. The narrative is a reflection of how we all navigate the world.
The show itself breaks down into a series of short stories, featuring things that have happened in John’s life. In the telling he explores complex themes of identity, self-awareness, political correctness, philosophy and psychology. His language is complex, but clearly understandable and conveying its meaning to everyone. It is a richly detailed show, less a sandwich more a full three course meal.
In between the anecdotes we return to the diary entries, the Hot Shame of the title. Different in tone and tenor, funny, biting and personal. They provide real moments that remind us of our own secret shames.
There is not a wasted word or line in the show. Every sentence serves a purpose, building to a punchline, signalling future gags or calling back. There is economy in the telling.
Having seen John Robins a few years ago, there is real development in his show and stand-up style. He is better, more complex and funnier. Where perhaps the popularity of his stand-up shows was slightly behind his peers, based on this evidence he is going to overtake them. I look forward to his next show.
This show is highly recommended.