Rob Newman plays head games at The Spring
If you're not a fan of Rob Newman, you might want to head south for the winter. For the rest of us, prepare for a multi-pronged cultural assault from one of our most insightful and thought-provoking comedians. Because Newman isn't just embarking on a new live show to take around the UK, he has a new book out and a Radio 4 series which has already begun.
He has spent the year researching brain science, developing electronic props, and doing secret gigs to hone his new live one, The Brain Show, which he believes represents a creative high point for him.
‘I’m psyched by the fact that nobody anywhere in the world is doing a show like this right now,’ he says. ‘But the biggest buzz comes from the fact that in 25 years I have never written comedy as good as this.’
Nobody else doing a show like this? It’s a big claim, but there’s substance to it – in typical Newman fashion, The Brain Show is one of the few stand-up shows that dares to scratch beneath the surface of a subject. Previously he has produced shows on evolutionary theory and the history of oil – now he turns his attention to that flaccid 3lb organ in our heads.
‘What the show does is take a sceptical stance towards some of the grand claims advanced by neuroscience,’ says Rob, ‘so it’s exploring everything from the neurobiology of romantic love to the thought-processes of stripy spiders; I talk about Stonehenge, robot co-workers, the right hemisphere of Paul Weller, the evolutionary origins of smiles and laughter.
‘There’s also a tricky, insinuating character called Brian Scanlon, and my doomed attempts to impress a neuroscientist called Natasha.’
The show promises to be something of a visual feast, not least because Newman will be in possession of a electroencephalograph – a kind of bulbous brain sensor which is worn as a hat and gives accurate readings of his mental states throughout the evening. He’ll also be enlisting the help of a fake bobtail squid and, sometimes, a skull xylophone. All of which makes journeys around the country rather eventful.
Rob says: ‘Yes for starters I’ve got a brace of oversized Hawaiian bobtail squid in my valise, then I also carry a massive “brain hat” around in a djembe bag. Only the African drummers’ bag will hold this thing. I refer to it as “the brain”, and get funny looks when people overhear me say things like: “I won’t need my brain in the first half tonight.” Or ‘They won’t let me take my brain on the train.’
But no Rob Newman show is complete without there being an ideological struggle at its heart. On this occasion, he is taking aim at pop science books that take the extraordinary new findings in brain science, and distort them to their own needs.
In 2010 and 2011 he took a break from stand-up comedy to be primary carer of his daughter while his wife worked. It seems that, for all his desire to learn and delve deep into a subject, the lure of the stage and making people laugh will never go away.
‘Stand-up is addictive. Right after a gig I start counting the days and hours until the next one. There is no joy like the joy of an audience giving you a big back- of-the-room. It’s like being a dragon tamer.’
Saturday, January 30
The Spring, Havant