Who Needs This Blog?

Robin Ince on why we create


In his film about his work of art that is in the Turner Prize, Rory Pilgrim says that his thought at the outset was, “Who needs this?”

Jesse Darling’s installation which won the 2023 Turner Prize

It is something I have thought about with increasing regularity the longer I have been making shows. I think “who needs this” mixed up with “what’s the point?” And “will it be entertaining enough?” – Funny is not everything. I have laughed at jokes while still being bored and sat in silence while utterly enthralled. 

I think these thoughts were also connected to my contemplations about Ricky Gervais’s defence of using the word “r****d”. 

Who needs it?

Who needs another privileged person making a show about why they should be allowed to say whatever they want without facing criticism. 

I realise why the likes of Laurence Fox, Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are so keen to cry that they are the victim, because if you can claim victim status then you don’t have to think about anyone else who may actually be experiencing oppression and dehumanisation. You are one of them so you can just focus on yourself and make no effort empathise as you are so busy dwelling on the injustices done to you. 

The speed in which the bully can turn themselves into the victim needs to be measured in femtoseconds with the reaction time of our news media. 

But still I return to the question, “Who needs this?”

My favourite thing about the arts is the potential of connection. 

Rory Pilgrim’s piece, represented by a 60 minute film, was gathering a group to contemplate the raft they each needed, what did they need to keep them afloat in the world.

Rory Pilgrim

It is a work that reaches out a hand.

I don’t want to connect with people via communal hate, though I am sure I have done this in the past.

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I have sometimes joined fan groups for films and TV shows and then found that they sound all their time banging on about what they hate about the latest episode or a recent reboot. They often dwell on a past where their franchise was perfect , sometimes only for one for two films, before it all went downhill. Then they pick over the carcass relentlessly until it is bone dust.

In stand up, talking about what you hate is often a short cut to easy laughs, like picking on the front row and explaining to then how they are rubbish. When I was at the Edinburgh Fringe, I was bemused at the way that stand ups would pick out members of their audience or ask a question and then find a way of slamming whoever responded. I can see why this might feel necessary in comedy clubs on a Friday or Saturday night. The comic is scared of the drunks so goes on the attack from the start, but at your solo show people have come to see YOU .

They want to hear YOU.

The attraction of the negative is that looking down on others can seem like power. It enhances you if you are no the individual or in the group that is being mocked. You elevated not by being or doing anything, just by not being something – a victory for inaction.

What I love to see is arts and artists that are full of love, that enhance, that make people feel happier to be alive, that offer people new ways of thinking and being.

To show love and commend kindness frequently leads to accusations of naivety.

If so, let naivety reign.

I think there is more bravery in showing love than shouting hate.

This is not to dismiss righteous ire and heartfelt fury, but how much better if it is to make the world  bigger and to aid further layers rather than to diminish and shrivel it.

Look at the banned books on the shelves of the Kurt Vonnegut Museum and Library, I saw how nearly all of them, whether by Lenny Bruce or Toni Morrison, Maya Angelou or Octavia Butler, were making the world a wider and more fascinating place. Their refusal to bow down to the status quo filled the world with more questions and more stones to peer under.

Kurt Vonnegut Library

I hope that when I think “who is this for?” , I reply that it is for everyone who does not want to hear the same thing as they have in their mind already repeated ad nauseam, thoughI also hope that some of it might also make a connection with some of their mind that they might keep hidden, worrying they are the only one.

I think it is important to ask ourselves why we believe what we believe and why we want to say out loud what we say out loud.

An interesting moment when someone says, “you can’t speak your mind now”, is to ask them which bit of their mind they are keeping hidden and what they would most like to say out aloud that they are currently concealing.

I love creativity. I love its possibilities and uncertainties.

I would rather watch someone fail with passion than succeed without .

Who needs this?

Can I find them?

Will they want it?

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 Prof Brian Cox.  For his work on projects like Cosmic Shambles he was made an Honorary Doctor of Science by Royal Holloway, University of London. His latest books are The Importance of Being Interested and Bibliomaniac.

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