Tuesday, June 05, 2007

I'm not with stupid

Over the past year-and-a-bit Stewart Lee, Richard Herring and Simon Munnery have all come to Chapter to record DVDs with the assistance of fledgling production company Go Faster Stripe, and on Friday night it was Robin Ince's turn.

Most familiar (as he himself ruefully concedes) as a talking head from countless clips / list shows, Ince would much rather be known as the man behind the Book Club nights, at which he routinely offers unrehearsed and cutting critiques of books as well as inviting fellow comics to try out short bursts of new material. A good friend of Ricky Gervais, Ince had a significant role on the latter's 'Politics' DVD, as well as a cameo appearance in 'The Office'. So, a comedian's comedian - very often the best kind.

But unfortunately nothing is quite right tonight.

For the recording Ince has drawn on material from the past two years in refining his 2005 show 'Robin Ince Is As Dumb As You', with the unifying theme being the incredible idiocy he sees all around him. But this distillation doesn't feel much like a smooth blend; instead, Ince skips quickly from topic to topic, without much in the way of coherence or fluency. Not having seen him in action before, I'm inclined to put the ramshackle nature of the delivery down to nerves at the pressure of being in front of a set of cameras as well as a live audience - and the lack of a natural break in proceedings is hardly helpful for either performer or spectators.

Neither, however, is much of the material itself in any way outstanding. The Daily Mail's scaremongering, intelligent design, new age spiritualism, drunken Valley Commandos on St Mary's Street - all topics which are the exact opposite of comic sacred cows, and none of which are dealt with with the originality I might have expected. True, there are flashes of Ince's sharp intelligence, but all too often he struggles to land the killer punch, or moves on too quickly without having fully extracted the comic gold tantalisingly visible in them there hills.

Aside from an idiosyncratic take on observational comedy and his brilliant John Peel impression (for which he first rose to prominence on 'The 11 O'Clock Show', alongside Gervais and Sasha Baron-Cohen), the best moment comes - sadly - when several audience members aren't even in the room. The show proper briefly on hold while the camera film is changed, Ince starts talking about how galling it must have been for the chap who offered himself as a sacrifice to that German cannibal to have been told before his death that the soup made from his severed penis was judged to be "very disappointing". This - and the subsequent reflections on how exactly Jeffrey Dahmer got away without being certified insane - is wickedly funny, but once the cameras are rolling again we're soon back into much less discomfiting territory.

Gently mocking his own librarian-like appearance, Ince comes across as a genuinely affable bloke - perhaps unusual in a field in which self-confidence bordering on arrogance is pretty much essential - and you sincerely want to be carried along with him, but affability isn't ultimately what I'm looking for. And the palpable sense of disappointment at the very end is compounded by Ince's admission that the first show of the evening went better - that, if nothing else, makes it hard to look on the performance as a triumph.


Ince's own thoughts on the two Chapter shows


skif said...

A very fair assessment it would seem to me, particularly going on Robin's own appraisal.

I kind of prefer him when he's going off the cuff (particularly when slagging his Book Club guests for over-running and such).

Hopefully his new show in Edinburgh this summer will find him in good form, as I imagine me and the lady (huge Ince fan) will be keeping a window free in the schedule to catch it.

Robin Ince said...

Unfortunately I think I may not have picked some of the better bits, which at the time of recording I thought had gone off the boil. Looking back, I now wish that i had put them in and the second recording was far more ramshackle on my part. Hopefully the new show will be a far better piece and something more to your liking.

skif said...

Fair play Mr Ince.

Like I say, will be up to see the new stuff in August and very much looking forward to it.