Scalpel Cuts of I'm a Joke and So Are YouRobin Ince's Blog
Writing my new book, I’m a Joke and So Are You, a title I am told seven year olds find very funny, I sat down with many people whose work I respect.
The first draft was chaotic; to make it more linear, most of my “guests” only turn up in one chapter. Here are a few excerpts from conversations that had to be edited for purposes of reader’s comprehension and editor’s sanity.
I loved talking to Tim Minchin about ethics as he prepared for another LA day of creating a film that I believe would have been wonderful but, after five years work, was stymied by the ego and economics of others. At that point, Tim had not been touring for six years, immersed as he was in Groundhog Day and the ruthlessly cancelled animated feature.
“Do you feel your existence on stage felt like a fuller version of yourself than offstage?” I asked.
“Yes, and problematically so”, Tim replied. “That is pretty much why I have changed my life to make sure I don’t go down that rabbit hole. It’s why I stopped performing … you do get superhuman abilities on stage, whether it’s due to fight or flight response or whatever. For me the most tangible version of this was doing Jesus Christ Superstar where I had to climb up 50 metres of rigging. In rehearsal, I’d be gasping so hard I could barely perform the song but in performance I’d go up twice as fast and have absolutely no trouble singing the song…. when you are on stage, this uber you, I imagine it comes from the redistribution of everything into the service of this one thing…performance.
When something cuts into that focus, it makes you angry, particularly when you are trying to do something tricky… and it makes you want to go, “Fucking shut up” – I need ALL my brain on this and you aren’t letting me”.
On how his persona changed, Tim explained that he had started as “A sort of stuttery Woody Allen character”, but he felt he ended too high status, though he didn’t believe that he was being inauthentic, being higher status than he really felt or lower status than he really felt, it was part of the game.
We talked about his responsibility to the audience. Tim is not merely adored, those who love him take notice of what he says. The songs are often not just a ditty, they have something to say about ourselves and our culture. Tim is vigilant when it comes to keeping the balance right; “You don’t want to get a messiah complex but you can’t ignore the impact. You can’t be negligent – ‘Ah fuck that I’m a comedian’, and after So Rock, before Ready for This, the didactic stuff kicked in, I did stand up about causality and correlation, that realisation that you can be a very charismatic lecturer and then trying to balance that with keeping the silliness”.
We went on to talk about when he played The Pope Song to me at a karaoke night in a former gentlemen’s toilet in Shepherd’s Bush, his quandary over the Cardinal Pell song and avoiding being an “apathete”, but that’s in the book, or at least I think it is, we were still editing as it went into the wheels and wells of the printing machines.
Sarah Kendall has created one of my favourite radio shows of the last five years, maybe even six years, Australian Trilogy, Part Two . She is honest and funny and worried, so she was perfect to interview for the book. A brilliant stand up, Sarah now concentrates on storytelling. They remain funny, but they also have more room to play beyond the boundaries of laughter.
She told me, “Performing in general had become pretty toxic”.
“I was bored with my stand up, I was bored with new ideas. You are slightly heightened when you are on stage and something was starting to break. At festivals my mum would say ‘I hate seeing you like this, you’re a different person, this changes you’.” She couldn’t nail it down to some Damascene or anti-Damascene moment, the shadow had grown taller and was increasingly present.
She continued, “There came a point in stand up when I was psychologically disengaged. I was desperate to feel something…I don’t want to say deeper because I don’t think comedy is shallow…I wanted to feel something different on stage and I wanted other people to feel different as well, I wanted other emotions to be taking place.” Around the same time, I had started to feel the opposite in some ways, it wasn’t the time on stage where I felt numb, it was all the time off stage.
Storytelling was what she needed, “I found that when I’d sit down at the end of the day and start working on a story, I’d get into a totally different headspace, it would take me out of my reality, it would transport, and that’s exactly what I wanted, I wanted to be taken out of being mum to two small kids, I wanted to build this other me…”
When I talked to Noel Fielding, he was just about to go off and try on a selection of Alice Cooper’s trousers. As chance, synchronicity or the devious manipulation of our alien illuminati would have it, I had bought a copy of The Diary of Salvador Dali on the way to our meeting. Noel was trying on Alice Cooper’s trousers for a TV film about the time Dali decided he would like to turn Alice Cooper into a full size hologram. The book also includes Dali’s essay on the art of farting, ““Because of a very long fart, really a very long and, let us be frank, melodious fart, that I produced when I woke up, I was reminded of Michel de Montaigne.”
We talked about imagination and we also talked about the sound of inner voices. He thinks Julian’s inner monologue is “a sort of panicky scream like a Russian animation, people screaming, clocks ticking, equations, and his is chaos and he’s always trying to create order.”
He explained his own voice as “a child of the 70s – my inner monologue is very free like a child and very beautiful and it’s surreal, but not a frightening surrealism and I’m always trying to listen to it and get back to it and that is why I always have to animate it … I like being in that place, it’s like Narnia, I’m always trying to get back to that place and I’m always trying to take as many people as I can with me … this morning I was thinking of people who put things that need to be thrown out into the sink rather than into the bin and I was thinking why do they do that…some off blueberries … and I was thinking of how the sink is a weird holding bay, to get things used to the change, and the blueberries meet a spoon with marmite on it and they don’t know where they’re going … teabags that think they are going to heaven, but actually they’re going to be boiled and squeezed, they’re going to hell… so I was having a conversation with my taxi driver, but really I was thinking about that…I’m trying to write a routine about jet lag, hay fever and flu all at a dinner party and I’m thinking, “If I have to make a costume for jet lag, what colour will it be”.
I’m a Joke and So Are You is out now. Get it here.
Feature image via timminchin.com
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Robin Ince is a multi-award winning comedian, writer and broadcaster. As well as spending decades as one the UK’s most respected stand-ups, Robin is perhaps best known for co-hosting The Infinite Monkey Cage radio show with Brian Cox. For his work on projects like Cosmic Shambles he was made an Honorary Doctor of Science by Royal Holloway, University of London.