You may remember a few First Gig/Worst Gigs ago we asked Elis James about his gig history, et al. Well now we've done the same to his comedy radio colleague, John Robins, before their upcoming tour, which is "a live version of our Radio X show and podcast," he says. "We've gathered a wonderful following over the past couple of years, but what's strange for us as stand-ups, is that you never get to hear their immediate reaction, or share with them a live experience.
"It really ramps up the excitement to know that people who usually only listen though headphones on their commute, or while washing up at home, or on long car journeys, can all come together for a live show. Also when we've done small scale live stuff in the past it's really great to see how well all our fans get on when they get to meet each other."
Nice. Now, let's revisit his sometimes not-so-nice career memories.
It was Feb 20th 2005. I had given up drinking the week before so remember it pretty well. It was only the second time I'd ever seen live stand-up (the first time was going to the same gig the week before). It was a weekly open mic night at The Hatchet Pub in Bristol.
I remember Dan Mitchell was compering. He used to do a routine about The Very Hungry Caterpillar where he ate all the food that the caterpillar did, it was so funny I assumed he was internationally famous, despite the fact we were sat next to a toilet door waiting to perform to around twelve people. I overran. That gig became the centre of my universe, and when a shift at work clashed with it a few months later I quit my job and never really got another one.
Favourite show, ever?
That's a tough one! There are lots of moments more than actual shows. Nights spent compering The Comedy Box in Bristol, where I really found my voice as a comedian. A moment on stage in Edinburgh last year where I felt I'd found my audience. Warming up the crowd for Queen at Westminster City Hall before their BBC New Year's Eve gig. These are all highlights.
Some time ago on the radio show I wrote my autobiography in the style of Tony Blackburn's Poptastic!, and we did a few live shows of me reading it. I think for both Elis and I, doing that live was a watershed moment. We put on a couple of shows in London at The Phoenix pub and the reaction when we came out on stage for the first time is something we'll never forget. Then when we did it in Salford to over four hundred people it was just insane.
Ashton Court Festival, Sunday Afternoon, 2005. It was something like my twentieth gig. I'd done well on the Saturday so I invited everyone I knew to the Sunday. Because of the previous day I think I assumed I was some kind of god, or at least minor comedy royalty. I. DIED. SO. HARD. I still remember every face I recognised in the audience. Just the look of absolute confusion and embarrassment. Oh God. Oh God.
Who's the most disagreeable person you've come across in the business?
That's not a jolly question is it?! You'd expect comedy to be littered with sociopaths and bullies, but many of the people I've met through comedy I count as some of my closest friends, and people who I feel really privileged to have met and worked with. Also, I'm sure I've been pretty disagreeable to people at times, so let's not go down the road of casting stones in our glass houses / one bed glass flat.
Sharing a stage with Brian May's stack of Vox AC30s, his rack of guitars (including THE guitar), and Roger Taylor's drums was genuinely surreal. It was too much to take in really. I think if I'd paused to connect with the ten year old me, who joined the Queen Fan Club in 1992, I'd have passed out, or cried, or both. In fact, I think I did have a brief cry, but in a cool way I'm sure. But I definitely didn't pass out! You can count on Robins to stay conscious at all times. That's just the kind of professional I am.
Is there one routine/gag you loved, that audiences inexplicably didn't?
Literally hundreds, if I really love them I tend to keep them in, apart from one, which audiences interpreted as being racist, when, in fact, it was only borderline racist.
What's your best insider travel tip, for touring comics?
I keep a selection of condiment sachets in the loose change compartment of my car. Invaluable for spicing up even the most boring of sandwiches.
The most memorable review, heckle or post-gig reaction?
When I did my first TV stand-up set someone tweeted that I was "less funny than AIDs, cancer, and spinal bifida combined" (I pointed out the misspelling of Spina Bifida). But because that's demonstrably not true it sort of helped in dealing with that sort of extreme comment; whoever wrote that probably didn't actually mind the stand-up I did that much, they're just the sort of person who writes that kind of thing online a lot.
What they're saying is "I didn't enjoy your stand-up", which is fine. But I do feel for people who get that kind of abuse regularly, especially female performers who get sexually violent abuse, often from people who would never dream of saying it out loud to them. You see these awful things written by men, and their profile picture is them hugging their daughter and you just think "Mate! Look at yourself! When you hug your daughter do you want her to live in a world where this kind of thing is said to a woman? What would you do to someone who said those things to her?!"
Sorry, that wasn't really the question was it? Um... I liked it when The Independent called my stand-up "humane." That was a really nice thing to read.
How do you feel about where your career is at, right now?
I feel very, very lucky to have got to a place where I'm finding an audience for exactly what I want to do. A lot of that comes from the radio show with Elis. When you're talking to your friend live, for three hours a week, you absolutely have to be yourself, there's no way I could maintain any kind of front or persona doing it. And that means displaying sides of yourself you might ideally like to hide, which has given me much more freedom in terms of stand-up.
It's taken a long time and there were many, many dark moments when I thought that wouldn't happen. There's a line in the film Rushmore, which is my all time favourite film, where Blume asks Max what the secret is, and he answers "I think you've just got to find something you love to do, and then do it for the rest of your life". Amen.
The Elis James and John Robins Experience UK Tour starts on 6th October and finishes on 14th November. For more information and to buy tickets go to elisandjohn.com