Robert Newman has almost passed the point where it's useful to label him a comedian; over an hour and a quarter, he comes across principally as a decent, thinking man whose decency and thoughtfulness happen mainly to take the form of ripping the piss out of the evils of corporatism and global capitalism.
There are more conventional stand-up chunks in his set, and the beloved Jarvis – polymorphous pervert extraordinaire – still makes a brief appearance, but few other comedy performers would also touch on the Prime Minister of Norway's time off for depression, or would describe that inner voice that gives dreadful advice in terms of Joseph Conrad's "demon of perverse intimation". And, frankly, no-one else would be able to generate a sizeable riff on Eric Hobsbawm's seeming omnipresence at the centre of all historical flashpoints this century.
Newman occasionally loses the thread – on the night I saw him, having to check the running order tucked into his urban-camo-patterned kilt – but is buoyed up by a palpable sense of audience goodwill to hear both what he has to say and how he says it. Whilst his agenda is no softer than that of, say, Mark Thomas, it comes over as driven more by concern and sensibility than by any ideological impulse. In addition to the political message, the main personal impression one leaves with is that one would be proud and honoured to have him as a good mate.
Newman is also delivering a series of lunchtime lectures on similar matters at the Stand Comedy Club: "like this," he claims with utterly unnecessary modesty, "only funny."
Written for the Financial Times Web site, ft.com
Copyright © Ian Shuttleworth; all rights reserved.
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