Review: Robin Ince: The Importance Of Being Interested
Venue: City Screen Basement, April 24
It says something about the dimensions of the City Screen Basement that Robin Ince was able to brace his hand on the ceiling for support, and that for large parts of his set he dispensed with the microphone: okay, he can be quite a noisy person, especially when he embarks on one of his tirades against un-science; but, really, this basement is
like a coffin very intimate. There also seemed to be a problem with the drains, somewhere down there, which will hopefully be eradicated when the venue undergoes its planned refurbishment soon.
In common with a few other comedians, Robin Ince uses the “lecture set-up” for his act: not the full-on formality of the professor’s dais and colonel’s pointing-stick as used by Ricky Gervais, for instance (and which probably would not have fitted on the stage here anyway), but a small screen with scrolling PowerPoint presentations sourced from a laptop.
Where Gervais used the educational prop as a means of expressing his teacherly “dominance” over the audience while also allowing a nod to irony, its presence here demonstrates only the underlying didactic seriousness of the show. For The Importance Of Being Interested contains no irony at all: Robin really does think that knowing both science and the developmental arc of scientific thought are crucial, and anything that aids these ends is worthwhile.
If that sounds a bit dry, it certainly would be if that were all the evening consisted of. But Ince structures things so that you get a bit of stuff about Charles Darwin followed by an “improvised” meander through conversations overheard on a train from Hereford to Oxford; a bit of stuff about physicist Richard Feynman followed by excerpts from the ongoing philosophical discourse between Ince and his five year-old son Archie; a bit of stuff about why being an atheist is the only rational stance, followed by an improv… you get the idea.
On its own merits, it works. And while no one is ever going to require medical attention to their ribs after attending a gig like this, equally no one is apt to stomp out of the venue while internally composing a letter to their MP railing against the brash and unnecessary malice corrupting modern comedians, imaginary pen tearing furious gashes in the paper. I have to admit to genuine bafflement when I heard that people regularly used to walk out of Frankie Boyle’s gigs, having taken umbrage at something the Scotsman said. I mean, what were they expecting, exactly?
They’d have been far better off here, where the darkness rarely attends: it could be said, even, that Ince’s hallmark – his very existence, possibly – is one of fundamental un-offence, of comedic non-combat: the closest to any “edge” in the jokes concerned the likelihood that the supermarket chain Morrison’s will probably not succeed with an online shopping service, as their customers would rather visit the store “for its atmosphere”; or the rambling anecdote which ended with Darwin describing a dog as “semi-idiotic.” But there’s nothing wrong with that; from what I could make out, neither Ince nor his audience turned up expecting to participate in an untrammelled rampage across the boundaries of taste – and they weren’t disappointed.