★★★★★ 5.0 stars
Never before have I left a comedy show feeling so much sympathy and remorse for the comedian. This harrowing, emotional and poignant piece of stand-up, at times induced grimacing reactions from the audience, and others, raucous laughter.
John Robins himself has been in the comedy scene since 2005, before which he studied English at Oxford University. He is also a massive fan of Queen (the band, not the monarch…). Following the recent breakdown of his three year relationship with Sara Pascoe, Robins has taken a morbid turn with his comedy, creating this new show about the painful split. To add fuel to the fire, Pascoe, a comedian herself, has also created a stand-up show based on the breakup, which was performed at the same venue as Robins’ throughout the summer. This venue was the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where I was able to see his show for myself.
Sitting on a stool with a bare, black backdrop, he begins the show by telling us his “flatmate has left”, setting the tone for a painfully funny account of his life after the breakup. He quickly informs us of the cons of single life, those being his loss of hope, direction and purpose. Yet, rather than seeking the audience’s sympathy, Robins tells with high energy, the many pros – such as his new-found freedom of increased plug socket access! Admittedly it is difficult to tell whether he pokes fun of his worst qualities or is full of self-loathing. This is testament to the unpredictability of Robins’ show, as after recounting a hilarious anecdote from the relationship, he states darkly “I would leave me too”. He describes the rocky road to recovery by slamming the home décor of a friend’s mate for his utterly pointless “display lentils” and recounting a tearful solo Ikea trip. Yet for the climax, Robins digs deeper. The show climaxes with a parody of a cushy, romantic building society advert, which we soon realise is an intimate frame by frame depiction of the falling apart of his relationship. This is dark comedy at its finest, as Robins manages to turn the most difficult, unspoken aspects of a breakup into a shamelessly funny self-reflection. Therefore while Robins’ clever humour encourages hysterical laughter, his exposure does not defy sadness altogether, as he shares his very real emotions and torment.
I first encountered John Robins through his podcast with Elis James, which you may have heard on Radio X. Robins describes it as “a commercial indie radio show that has got wildly out of hand”. The two comics play made up games, read confessional emails, and make fun of ‘humble braggers’ on Twitter. Although James and Robins aren’t strangers to the occasional cynical joke or wry humour, the podcast on the whole is a light-hearted listen.
Therefore, I was more than a little surprised by the completely sardonic approach Robins takes in his new piece. I entered the Edinburgh studio expecting a witty comedy, but left having experienced a unique, thought provoking and, at times, existential performance. ‘The Darkness of Robins’ is a brutally honest, truthful recount of what has been a very rough period for Robins. Raw and shocking at times, Robins shamelessly exposes himself in every possible sense, but what really brings the humour is his self-deprecating manner. I would even go as far as calling this an extraordinary one man show, rather than a stand-up comedy.
As a result of such an incredible show, Robins recently won the award for Best Comedy Act at the Edinburgh Fringe…
*** ‘The Darkness of Robins’ will be touring the UK until early May 2018 ***
If I’ve convinced you to go and see this incredible comedy show, check out John Robins’ website for a full list of his UK tour dates: https://www.johnrobins.com/gigs, Or go to http://www.ticketmaster.co.uk/John-Robins-The-Darkness-of-tickets/artist/5232945 to buy tickets!