Robert Newman’s career has spanned over two decades and has seen him transform himself from a pin-up boy of early 90’s alternative comedy, to a political activist and established author. He debuts his new show in Hemel Hemstead on Friday so SubSiren’s Steven Belfrage caught up with him to find out more
Your new show is called ‘Robert Newman’s New Theory of Evolution’, so in a nutshell what is your New Theory of Evolution and is it funny?
The New Theory Of Evolution argues that there is as much cooperation as competition in natare. Darwin thought so, too, as it goes, but this has been written out of history. From Herbert Spencer’s ‘Survival of the Fittest’ to Richard Dawkins ‘Selfish Gene’ ideology, Darwin and Wallace’s theory of evolution by natural selection has been hijacked by a reductive individualist politics that has left people with a very narrow, pessimistic view of human nature. The New Theory of Evolution is meant to cheer them up a bit. Oh, and I enjoy talking about ants, amoebae, buffalo, vampire bats and baboons.
Is it important for you to test drive new material, such as at your show in Hemel on Friday?
Yes, I’ve always tested and workshopped new material. It’s the only way.
Have you ever been to Hemel Hempstead before? Some call it the jewel of Hertfordshire you know
Yes, I’ve done the Old Town Hall before, too. For me the jewel of Hertfordshire is Codicote where I come from. As a Saturday boy, I worked for the farmer that cut the fields for the Knebworth pop festival.
April sees the release of ‘The Trade Secret’ (above), a novel which has taken you a whopping seven years to complete. Why did it take you so long?
If I was cleverer it might have taken much less time, but I am a slow thinker. Plus the book involved a lot of research in the British Library, since it is based on a true story about the first Elizabethans to discover petroleum, coffee and messenger pigeons.
You have described the book as a ‘swashbuckling adventure story’ set during the discovery of oil in sixteenth century Persia. What inspired you to write fiction rather than explore the subject through a more factual approach?
I like adventure stories. I And the main character – seventeen-year old Nat Bramble – is a servant – and while there are lost of records and info about aristos like his master Sir Anthony Sherley, there is very little information about servants. And Nat is what was known in Elizabethan times as a skink, the lowest servant, the servant that other servants gave orders to.
SubSiren did a feature on the Mary Whitehouse Experience (below) last year which is still the most popular post we’ve ever had on the blog, even eclipsing a Star Wars article. Are you aware of how fondly remembered the show is and why do you think this is?
This is very nice to know. There were some excellent sketches in there and some not so good ones.
And finally do you think we are all heading for a Mad Max-like dystopian future when the oil finally runs out?
Well, in the Niger Delta the Ogoni people are already living in a Mad Max dystopia. But their campaigns against Shell are a beacon for the rest of us. They show that we are not passive victims who have to dumbly accept whatever the future may hold. We can, acting together, influence the future. One of the reasons for writing New Theory Of Evolution is because thirty years of sociobiology and Selfish Genery has left people feeling very fatalistic and disempowered. And pessimism is bad for democracy.
By the way, we cannot afford to wait for the oil to run out. It;s absolutely vital and crucial that the oil and gas stays in the ground, If we burn just a fraction of the known reserves our goose is cooked. Sorry to end on a not very optimistic note there!
Check out Rob in action: