Saturday, 30 June 2012

Gig Report: Robin Ince - Happiness Through Science

CAUTION: Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.

Robin Ince: Happiness Through Science poster

Robin Ince: Happiness Through Science
Didcot Cornerstone / Fri 29 Jun 2012

Despite his extensive work with the sort of comedians I like™, and indeed the actual comedians I like™, I've so far managed not to see Robin Ince live. This, despite everyone in my circle of friends telling me that I really should, and me listening to his various shows and podcasts all the while. So when he's due to play a venue ten minutes walk away from my house, I really have no excuse.

Happiness Through Science, is a two-hour (plus) excited, rambling, enthusiastic and occasionally-angry tour of science and many of its adjoining counterparts, including art, religion, consciousness, mortality. Wow, I've made that sound a lot heavier than it is. The show is very positive, like the title suggests. Robin Ince has a passion for knowledge that can't be contained, and the routines almost burst out of him as he paces, crouches and leaps his way through a set that jumps from topic to topic, with many 'but we'll talk about that later' moments, only a few of which are repaid. In fact, this is what I enjoyed most about the show; there's a feeling that there's not enough time to cover everything he wants to talk about. In fact, there's a feeling that he's barely got started (how do you cram the joy of all scientific achievement so far into two hours?). On more than one occasion, Robin apologised to the audience for keeping them so long and over-running the show, and on every occasion the audience quietly smiled back as if to say 'No, carry on. This is what we're here for. Talk more.' He talks about knowledge and learning in a way that isn't patronising (or maybe I'm too thick to realise I was being patronised*1), because he's not teaching, he's just talking about how great finding stuff out is. The show's a lot more standup than I was expecting given the subject matter, but I can understand why he'd been listed at the venue as "comedy talk" rather than "standup".

I could have sat there all night listening to Robin talk, and I suspect I'm not alone in that, but obviously he had a train to catch and this ain't a Ken Dodd show. Speaking of trains, I've noticed that every stand-up who plays Didcot will make a reference to getting off the train for a change*2, and Robin Ince was no exception. I'm not having a pop at performers for mentioning it, by the way, but it seems that while the audience laugh politely, there's an air of 'Yeah, they all say that'. Although tonight's show also featured the addition of walking the wrong direction out of the station and getting lost as a result, which got a greater (and more understanding) laugh.

In other hands, the show would seem disorganised and/or unfinished, but that's Ince's modus operandi, and I was just happy to hear him performing at great length. As much as he's a talker, the various shows of his I listen to all feature other presenters/guests, and he never talks over people. As a result, I always want to hear more from him, and as a result I didn't really have any reference material I could play Mrs Blackout before the show without subjecting her to seven or eight hours of Infinite Monkey Cage or Utter Shambles. I enjoyed seeing a show where it was about Robin, for a change. Even if he'd insist that it wasn't about him.

Oh, and when he did his Stewart Lee impersonation, and pointed out in character that only three people in the audience were getting this bit, I was one of those three. This made me feel superior to all the scientists in the audience. Ha! I am better than you, you results-obsessed idiots!

Charming, likeable, and kinda nutty. Go and see Robin Ince. You really have no excuse.

Robin Ince has several different shows ongoing over the coming months, including an Edinburgh run. You can see a full listing and buy tickets through And you really should.

Wow. That was an objective review of the night, wasn't it? Not at all gushing and fanboyish. I don't care. Robin Ince's show has more content and passion than most mainstream performers manage over their careers. Go and see him, you fools.

*1 Just kidding. I think.
*2 Didcot Parkway is a large 'interchange' station between Reading and Oxford, and most trains travelling up the West side of England to/from London will stop there, seemingly regardless of their destination. Chances are you'll spend time waiting for a connection there at some point, but it's rare that you'll actually want to get off the train. We've only had the arts centre for five years or so, so a lot of performers are now finding out that Didcot consists of more than just a train station. Not a lot more, mind you.

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.

• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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