There are some comedians that play it safe, do the same old observations about the difference between men and women and how you never have a pen when you need one. If that’s your kind of comedian, then Robert White is probably not for you. He has the sort of act that wakes up a crowd, scares and confuses, isn’t afraid of giving them a bit of a grope and then leaves them in tears of laughter and desperate for more. Last summer, his debut Edinburgh show won the Malcolm Hardee Award for Comic Originality and critical acclaim. This is an act you’ll want to see soon, so you can say you saw him before he was huge. Now, fresh from performing at the Leicester Comedy Festival, Robert talks to So So Gay…
SSG: Your comedy draws on a lot of things from your personality – your sexuality, your Asperger’s, dyslexia, being cross lateral, being a quarter-Welsh, having webbed toes. Was it a conscious decision to make your routine so personal?
Robert White: Sometimes I think it’s an arse that the audience are so intrusive into one’s very personal self when I’m on stage! They ask stupid questions like ‘why do you fancy men?’, ‘what’s your other arm doing if you’re playing the piano one handed?’, ‘why did you touch me there?’ and so on. But, comedy is a conversation between the audience and the performer, and part of that is getting to know each other. After all, a few minutes in and I’ll know quite a lot about a few guys in the front few rows, and will have made their very personal information a big part of the show, so I should do my bit and give a little of myself also. Yes, maybe I have a bit more ‘getting to know’ about me than most comics, but then again, I’d hate to be the sort of comic who you could tell everything about from a pedestrian first greeting of ‘my name’s Barry Peters’ as a grubby football shirt wearing lard-arse sloths onto stage to bore you with tales of supermarket shopping and airplane food.
Has your act always been this way, or has it developed as your career has matured?
Both and neither and none of the above! All of the above, you’ve hit the nail on the head, close but no cigar, maybe, possibly, definitely, always, never, and in short, sometimes. I have always been me but not always known how to present myself. When I started I got nervous and tried to subdue this and constrained myself, but now, after much trial and error, I have learned to use the energy. If you imagine a cake that has three layers, one of chocolate filling, one of jam and one of vanilla fudge filling. That is a really nice cake, isn’t it? There isn’t any reason really; well, no reason at all, just imagine a cake. They’re lovely aren’t they? Yum yum lovely cake! Erm, tasty. I love cake!
Where does the inspiration for your work come from?
I think my inspiration has always been in trying to connect with the audience, frequently in getting guys’ phone numbers, but sometimes for reasons of comedy too. As such, when I first started I would go into the audience and play games, play tricks, touch testicles, steal handbags and so on, in order for me to connect. After a time I became so adept at this that it would do better than my planned material, until it became part and parcel of my material, (by the way I still have 43 handbags for sale if you’re interested). So, now that I have started to say deeper things, about politics, personal issues, relationships, being dumped, cheating bastards, evil ex boyfriends and the fucking bastard that stole my soulmate – not mentioning any names! – I do it in this very abstract, spontaneous, interactive fashion.
Music plays a major part of your act – often showing some very impressive talent. Did the music come first, or the comedy?
Music for me is not comedy. It is my life force, with me since childhood, a powerful solemn spiritual energy and I would shy away from any attempt to make comedy out of something as serious as music. For example I grew up in a very musical house, it was A-flat (ba-boom tish!). Until I moved house and had to change key (ba-boom tish!). I grew up constantly listening to Boy George. He lived upstairs (ba-boom tish!). And I grew up infatuated with the music of Elton John until I found out that ‘Your Song’ wasn’t actually written for me (ba-boom tish!). From ten years old, I’d sit in my room on an old piano stool practising scales, and got so good that when I was 16 my mum bought me a piano (ba-boom tish!). When I was 12 I played the recorder for the prime minister until I was asked to leave for being a government whistle blower (ba-boom tish!). So as you can see music and comedy are two very separate things!
Finally, you had your first solo Edinburgh show this year. How did that go?
Doing the Edinburgh festival is a massive thing I’ve always wanted to do, and my show did great, winning an award and getting top reviews as well as having one of my jokes listed in the top ten of the festival. And indeed – as Arnold Schwarzenegger said when asked what classical composer he’d go to the musical fancy dress party as – ‘I’ll be Bach’. This year I have other things to work on, but next year I plan to go up and reprise my success, once I have got my head round a new show and some new jokes… seeing as that ‘I’ll be Bach’ effort was truly very ropey indeed.
To see find out more about Robert White – and to get details on where to see him live – check out his Facebook page.