Rob Auton. Photo Credit: Julian Ward

Interview with Rob Auton

Never described as ‘mainstream’ and often described as ‘a very funny man’, Bath Time was keen to learn more about this internet and stand-up sensation. Lifestyle Editor Nicola Jennings and Features Editor Nidhi Arun had a chat with him over ISB

On April 4th, award winning comedian and poet Rob Auton will be bringing his critical hit, The Talk Show, to Bath’s Rondo theatre. Last year the British Comedy Guide declared this piece ‘the second best reviewed show’ at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, where he previously picked up the ‘Dave Funniest Joke of Fringe’ award, and it followed a stream of similarly titled successes including ‘The Hair Show’ and ‘The Yellow Show’. The Guardian have described him as ‘The Brian Cox of Comedy’ and the Arts Foundation have shortlisted him for the prestigious Spoken Word Award.

NJ: Hi Rob, thank you for agreeing to chat with us. To start, please could you introduce yourself to the readers of Bath Time.

RA: My name is Rob Auton and I am a writer and performer of some of what I write. I write short stories and bits of writing that some people call poetry. I am about to do a nationwide tour of my show that is called The Talk Show. I performed this as my seventh solo show at Edinburgh Fringe. It’s a different year and is on a different specific topic: talking. In the past I’ve done shows on the colour yellow, the sky, faces, water, sleeping and talking and I’m in the process of writing a new show about time called The Time Show.

NA: How and why did you first get into comedy?

RA: The first time that I ever stood up in front of a group of people and said anything was when I was at university, studying for a Graphic Design Degree. I had to go up and do a presentation to about 60 people in the year, and it was really nerve-wracking having to do a PowerPoint about your work. When I did mine, I said something that people laughed at and thought, ‘that was enjoyable’. I then tried to make the next one a bit more funny and enjoyed that too.

Graphic Design was a course about ideas. When I graduated I thought, ‘which industry needs someone with ideas?’ and went on to work in advertising for a bit. I also started doing gigs on the side. I thought advertising was going to be a perfect job for a creative person … but it isn’t. It’s a business and I really struggled. I got a couple of ideas out into the world but, as well, I started keeping these notebooks where I’d write down ideas. You can unleash yourself on the pages and I just jotted down the weirdest things I could think of.

One day the creative director of the advertising firm said, ‘I’m having a fireworks party and there’s going to be a bit of poetry’, so I asked if I could do it and he said yes. I stood up at his house and from there a couple of people asked me to join a poetry night. I started doing poetry gigs and a few weeks later I got asked to do an ‘alternative comedy night’. I did that and then did as many open mics as I could. Whenever I did, a comedy night I did the ‘funny stuff’ but I also tried to add in a few serious things as well.

In 2009 I went up to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I came back from that, did 15 mins a day on a show called ‘The Big Comedy Breakfast’ and got a job at an art shop, doing gigs on the side until I was doing so many that I couldn’t do the job anymore. I’ve been doing comedy full time since 2012.

NJ: I’m sure students here will be able to relate to the stress of university presentations! Do you miss university?

University’s great. It takes a while to figure out what you want to do even when you’re there, but the best thing about it is that it sets you up on own. Before I went to uni I don’t think I was even a proper person! It turns you into a proper person and you get to find out who you are.

NA: How do you pick the themes for your shows?

My first one, a show about the colour yellow, was because I had a yellow coat and every time I put it on it made me feel a bit more…. Upbeat, and up for life. When I put it on I was like, ‘I wonder how positive I could make myself feel if I wrote a whole show about the colour yellow’. The sky one was just because I like the sky.

I pick the subjects because they’re things I want to explore and things that will stand the test of time. When I look back on my work, I want to pick subjects that aren’t going to change, such as the sky and faces – I know my face will change but faces will still be around in many years to come. I don’t want to write about temporary things like Theresa May. That comedy will age very, very badly. Some people need it though and do want to hear about Brexit on a comedy night. Of course there are some brilliant people doing stuff about Brexit and that’s great, but I would just get too depressed about it.

In this current show I’m doing about talking, I want to use my time to create a performance that has a positive impact on me as a person and the people who come to watch.  I want to explore things and see how I feel about them. I love doing it. I put the words in a spider diagram and then just go off on one. I’d like to do 10 of these shows and then maybe something else.

NA: I know lot of comics say their on-screen persona is very different to their off-screen persona. How different would you say you are in real life compared to on stage?

I think there isn’t that much difference. When I’m on stage, everything I say has been written and it’s all about the words and my speculative outlook. Basically, it’s like holding a painting up for people to look at-in this case, it’s words I’ve been looking for and want people to hear. I’m just a tool to get my material out there. I think it’s really important to keep it as natural as it can be, otherwise you get found out pretty quickly. I always want to write from a true place and be true to myself. If someone tries to pick holes in my work I can say, ‘I’m sorry it’s not for you but that’s fine’. The good thing is that the people who like it come back. That’s great because it’s how you build an audience.

NJ: Just for our readers who haven’t seen you at Fringe or on Comedy Central, could you describe the style of your shows in five words?

Slow. Enthusiastic. Deliberate. Optimistic. Hopeful.

NJ: It’s really nice to see a comedy who isn’t just cynical…

I hope so! I want to use my time onstage to be positive and make people feel good.

NA: So what would you say your career highlights are?

A couple of memorable things that have happened. One time I was flyering for The Yellow Show on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh and that was the first time I’d been up there. No-one knew what my show was about so I had to flyer for three hours a day to get people in. That was in a yellow paddling pool, a yellow lilo and a yellow umbrella. And you know those kind of noodles that you get for the swimming pool? I had a yellow foam one of those and I put a slit in the end of it with a Stanley knife. I pushed my flyer in and then fed it out to people so it was almost like a fishing reel. A lady came up to me and gave me a fiver and said I’d made her day. That was a highlight definitely.

Being on telly can be quite stressful and not that enjoyable really. I love doing it and I’d love to do more; when I first started I thought that would be my career highlight. But, it’s like you know when you go to a party and you’re really looking forward to it… and it can fall flat? Whereas if you just go the pub with your mates you can walk home and think ‘that was amazing’. When those moments come along you’ve gotta grip them with both hands.

NJ: Finally, could you offer us an insight into what to expect from your tour?

Me. Rob Auton. Tall lanky person from Yorkshire. Talking about talking. The show focuses on my love of listening to people talk. It’s a celebration of language and trying to stay as inquisitive about talking as possible. NJ and NA: Thank you so much for speaking with us today!

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