Interview: Rob Rouse
After becoming a father for the second time Rob Rouse couldn’t be more content with family life. One thing he never saw coming, however, was that having a baby girl could turn him into a radical feminist; and that’s not even a poor attempt of pandering to the ladies.
A befuddled and disgruntled Rob can’t handle a world where plastic tits and a Vajazzle are now something to aspire to, so in reaction he’s written a show about it. Dan Carmichael caught up with Mr Rouse to find out more.
DC: Hi Rob. Can you tell us a bit about the new tour and what people can expect?
RR: Well it’s essentially just about my life. That’s not a cop out of an answer. My stand-up comes from my guts and I try do stuff that isn’t cute and fluffy. Like ‘Oh, aren’t squirrels funny? or “Imagine a possum using chop sticks!”’ Basically, we had a baby girl recently and it’s changed the way I think about a lot of things…so I’m now a radical feminist. It’s honestly made me look at the world through my daughter’s eyes and consider what it might be like for a girl growing up in this modern world.
This is a very sexist world I think. The show isn’t anti-men and it certainly isn’t men vs. women. The show is about all of us. You can look at TV shows like Geordie Shore and worry what it’s making people think about women but also the effect it’s having on young men and the role models we look up to.
Not to mention the horrific wealth of porn we have out there. When I was a lad we just had to make do with a picture of a shapely lady with big hair holding a bag of onions looking confused. That was all you needed back then and the rest was left to your imagination. Now it’s just extreme what boys are exposed to and I think we have a responsibility as adults to consider the effect this is having on them. Kids only reflect to what they see in the world.
DC: Do you watch Geordie Shore?
RR: I watched it once. I didn’t know what it was until I did a voice over for a best-of episode and was horrified by what I saw. It’s a shame because other dim people think that’s what Newcastle is like and it’s not; that’s just what some fucking idiots who happen to be from Newcastle are like. These guys who live this muscles-fake tan-shag anything that moves-drunken lifestyle. This is what’s being commissioned for people’s entertainment these days. It’s tragic.
There’s a lot I don’t understand about the world. I was playing at V festival a few weeks ago and I was astonished at what it’s become. In my head festivals were still just like being in the 70’s. That it was still all about flower power and the music. That wasn’t the case. It felt like literally half the people at these things are orange, shaved, roid rage guys and a sea of girls with plastic tits. It’s a Rock & Roll festival, what’s going on?!
I saw a poster advertising a public appearance for Jay from Geordie Shore. On it was just a picture of him showing his belly off. That’s an event now?! Fair play to him I guess if he’s making a living. He’s not the enemy here. It’s the conceit of these shows that are wrong. It’s a great opportunity for Jay. He likes shagging birds and going to town – they just gave him the opportunity and resources to do it. I hope he’s saving it though, because it’s not going to last long. He’ll have to watch his back because soon it will be some other meat-head with an even bigger six pack, knob, and sex drive to take his place.
DC: It’s good to hear Geordie Shore hasn’t coloured your perceptions of Newcastle. You’ll be playing at The Stand club in October, how do you find doing shows in the north?
RR: I love it and The Stand is just incredible. I think all over the country it’s great but in towns like Newcastle, Glasgow and Birmingham people seem more open and free with their emotions when it comes to stand-up. I don’t really know why or where that comes. Newcastle has a really good lineage of subversive humour and left field material, which I’ve always liked. I started reading Viz as a child and that opened my brain up. It’s probably one of the reasons I got into this. Whilst some of it was really broad brush, crass and hilarious, other parts where quite political and alternative. When Vic and Bob came along I felt I knew exactly what they were talking about. It’s a lovely avenue of comedy and just part of what people are like in places like Newcastle. So it always makes a great place to do shows.
DC: How has your material and stand-up style changed over the time leading up to this new tour?
RR: Well my last tour was essentially about me uprooting from London and moving to the countryside. It was about that chunk of my life and there was more of a story element to that. This new show is a much larger collection of my feeling and thoughts that just comes spewing out of my guts. I’m not trying to package it in any way shape or form; that’s why I gave it a ‘cover-all’ title. When I started work on it I didn’t want to be boxed in and be feel limited making the show one set thing or another. I just want to be the funniest I can be on stage for the time that I’m allowed.
I didn’t take this show to Edinburgh so there wasn’t the pressure to have a narrative or to ask loftier questions like ‘What does it mean?’ I decided to just let this show be so it can expand and evolve over the course of the tour.
DC: That’s interesting. I know you’re not a big fan of being preached to during stand-up so how do you develop your own ideas and where does your inspiration come from?
RR: I carry a lot of scrap paper round with me with varying levels of scrawls written on them resembling that of a serial killer. It’s a long process: they all get folded up and put into my back pocket, at some stage they end up in a draw, then I write them out again, then I lose that, then I start again. Eventually I take the ideas on stage and try them in pub gigs and previews until I’ve worked them out. When you’ve gone through this a few time you have instincts that you just follow to see how they pay off. I keep working and changing it until I’m satisfied with the result. It’s like patting something together out of clay.
I’ve never sat down and wrote everything all out; I just can’t. At that point it feels like a job, and I never wanted that. So for this show I wrote from the inside outwards. There is no framework I follow, I just figure it out as I go along and the links naturally show themselves. I just want to write really rock solid chunks of stand-up I’m happy with.
Life is unpredictable and doesn’t always have a neat ending so this new show was made with that conceit in mind. The show is kept quite loose in terms of a format – in that it has none.
DC: Quite a lot of your material hits close to home. Do you bounce ideas off your family and friends first?
RR: Yes and no. I’m quite cagey about it. I try to think, ‘If my wife saw this, would she be alright with it?’ I think generally if you’re doing stand-up about the people you love then ultimately – if you’re honest and think about what you’re saying – you shouldn’t get it wrong. I hope…
DC: What’s touring life like for you? What are its upsides and downsides?
RR: The upside is that I’m doing the purest version of what I love doing. I’m very lucky to have this as my job. I get to express myself on stage and have fun with the audience. That very simple interaction and moment you share with the crowd is incredibly addictive. I think stand-up is a bit like an illness. I would really struggle going back to a job where I’m being told what to do now that I’ve hardwired my brain to this.
I love the simplicity of touring: you go to a new town, do your show, go to bed, go to a new town, rinse and repeat. There is a pleasing simplicity to it all and it’s really good fun. Your able to work on the show the whole time too so its exciting to see it change as time goes on.
The downsides are probably…carbon emissions. Oh, and maybe a couple too many pies on the road.
DC: You’ve bounced back and forth between TV work and stand-up a few times – making appearances on panels shows and cameos on other television programmes – how do you find making that transition?
RR: It doesn’t really feel like a transition to me. It’s a valid question because a lot of people tend to think that once you’ve appeared on TV you’ve stopped doing stand-up. Throughout out my thirteen-year career I’ve never stopped doing gigs. I’ve either been doing it constantly or if I’m doing TV work, it’s still dotted around that.
It’s the core of your career and where everything comes from. You want to keep doing it to stay sharp and keep fresh. It’s like exercise, if you get out of shape you’ll find you can’t do it anymore. I think you tend to find most comics will still try to do as much stand-up as they can even if they have TV work.
It’s also my bread and butter. There is a huge perception that if you’re on the TV you have loads of money. You don’t get paid that much for doing things on the telly. That’s why Jay from Geordie Shore has to show his abs – to pay his gas bill!
I’m lucky that the core of what I do doesn’t really feel like work. My worst-case scenario is that I’ll still be in a club performing and screaming at strangers. That’s actually not that bad; it’s probably quite healthy.
DC: Could you still imagine life as a geography teacher?
RR: I couldn’t no. I still think I learnt more in that time about hard work than I have now. It taught me to apply myself to something and it really helped when I started out in stand-up. It made me realise I didn’t want to be a teacher and was actually just avoiding a career in the world of business. It was really beneficial in a lot of different ways and helped me to be disciplined with myself. It also went a long way in helping me conquer my nerves. Teaching a group of thirty kids is infinitely more frightening than standing in front of a thousand people.
It helps you realize what ultimately matters in life. The worst that can happen to me now is that I can try a new idea on stage and it falls flat. It’s a whole other story when you have parents hysterically crying that ‘ your ruining my son’s life and chances in the world!”
Stand-up may not be teaching, rocket science or brain surgery but I still think it has tremendous value; we all need to laugh and have fun. What I’m doing is vaguely useful but in the grand scheme of things I accept is it transient. That’s why I try not to get too lost in what it all means or where my career goes because I’m already really lucky.
DC: What are you plans after ‘Life Sentences’ then?
RR: Well last night I just wrapped up appearing on John Bishop’s new show Only Joking – that goes out on Sky next year. I’ve got some scripts of my own that I’m writing too, which are in varying stages of development. And I’m always writing new material whenever I can, so eventually a new tour could be on the cards.
Rob Rouse plays the Newcastle Stand on Tuesday 2nd October. For tickets, see: thestand.co.uk. Rob is also appearing on Only Joking, which airs on Sky1 next year.