Rob Gilroy

In praise of Robin Ince

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Another week, another turn of the comedy carousel; as new comedians step on, so to; the elderly step off. Overwhelmed by the constant spinning motion, and somewhat freaked out by the demented plastic horses.

I’m referring to the (semi)retirement of Robin Ince; if you haven’t had the pleasure of observing his comic mastery, then you’ve missed your chance, you big fool. And let’s be fair; he gave you a lot of chances.

Robin was, and is, one of my favourite stand-up comedians. I hesitate to say ‘of all time’ because time spans an eternity and that could easily change; but he comes damn close. Seeing one of his live shows is quite unlike anything else. I tell a lie, I used to have a physics teacher in the throws of early dementia – he would crack jokes before half-remembering the Theory of Relativity* and going off on a tangent about patent clerks. So, in a way, Robin Ince is a bit like that.

I was incredibly fortunate to see Robin about six years ago, at the Edinburgh Festival; a friend put me on to his PBH Free show. At the time, I vaguely remembered him as one of those floating heads on Saturday night TV, banging on about Spangles and Come Back Mrs Noah in front of a fluorescent back drop. I could picture his face but I didn’t have any way of understanding the nature of his act.

Coming out of said show, I was no closer to an answer.

What I did know, however, was that Mr Ince was incredibly, unreservedly, hilarious. The show was about his desire to withdraw from reading printed news, as it was all essentially a melting pot of hyperbole and staunch hysteria. Seeing this bespectacled man gradually bubbling with anger and frustration, spouting relentless, uproarious comments, was a revelation. I’d never seen comedy performed with quite the same level of passion. It remains one of the most inspiring hours of comedy, I’ve ever seen.

The following year, I brought along my girlfriend, then a few days later; my family. Both times I was filled with that horrible cocktail of excitement and terror. Fear that you’ve built something up to such a level, that it can never be enjoyed the way you’d wanted. Thankfully, Robin delivered, in more ways than I thought possible; turning my entire social circle into diehard fans. This was just at the start of his burgeoning science fetish, and my step dad summed perfectly. ‘I didn’t understand a bloody word of it, but it was the funniest thing I’ve ever seen.’ It’s hard to disagree.

I must point out, for any hardcore Incians; he isn’t retiring fully. As his moving blog suggests; he’s simply on stand-up sabbatical. While I don’t, for a second, feel that his creative well has been emptied by the townsfolk; I do feel the decision is a good – and brave one. I say that, as someone who also retired from stand-up comedy. While my achievements were nowhere near as great as Robin’s; there is a similar feeling – a desire to keep the passion for the craft, alive. Mr Ince feels the break will do him well, creatively and mental-healthily; that coming back to it after a time will rejuvenate his thinking. He’s bowing out before the pressures and stresses of live performing strip his enjoyment from it.

I can understand this. I had already burnt out, in regards to stand-up. My love of it, while still there, was diminished by the knowledge that I wasn’t moving the act on or improving my skills. There were a lot of mitigating factors in my decision, as I’m sure there are in his, but chief amongst them, was enjoying it. I hope to return to it one day, when I feel I have something to say and a passion to say it.

I trust that Robin will return to stand-up, once he’s enjoyed some time away. And I am equally confident that his passion for it won’t subside. While it is a shame to see someone so consistently brilliant move on, I can’t help but feel that Robin Ince: Revitalised is an incredibly exciting prospect.

I will miss seeing you, sir. But enjoy every moment of your sabbatical, you’ve earned it.

*No doubt, Robin would use a more niche joke here.