An Interview with John-Luke Roberts

John-Luke Roberts, a self-described blue-moustached idiot and critically acclaimed comedian, is bringing his sell out Edinburgh Fringe show ‘All I want to do is [FX: GUNSHOTS] With a [FX: GUN RELOADING] and a [FX: CASH REGISTER] and Perform Some Comedy!’ to the Rondo Theatre in Bath on the 12th of April. Bath Time caught up with him to ask some questions.

EK: Hi John-Luke. Thanks for taking the time to talk with us. Could you introduce yourself for the readers?

JLR: Yeah… How would I do that? I’m John-Luke Roberts. I’m and absurdist comedian and comedy writer. That’s a reasonable place to start I guess.

EK: How did you first get into comedy and has it always been absurd for you?

JLR: I’ve always been a big fan of comedy. I remember becoming obsessed with Monty Python and Eddy Izzard in my early teens, and then, looking back, I see the other things that were always around which we’d watch as a family. These were as disparate as Victoria Wood and ‘Allo ‘Allo. I’ve got a sneaking suspicion that ‘Allo ‘Allo wasn’t very good. It’s very hard to tell. In fact, I think I found out recently why ‘Allo ‘Allo isn’t very good. It’s because they tried to break the American market by writing one series of 26 episodes without hiring any more writers, so two writers did the whole thing. I think that’s true, but it’s one of those things I don’t want to check because I prefer the story to the potential actuality.

At university I started doing bits and pieces of sketch and other things. Then, I entered the BBC new comedy awards which I was too young for, got into the final, panicked and ended up with a sketch show on what was BBC 7 but is now BBC 4 Extra. That was a baptism of fire at the beginning of my career, but it also lulled me into a false sense of security that everything would just go my way. It turns out you actually have to work quite hard.

EK: You’ve gone on to work on lots of different shows. Some absurd but also more topical radio shows. Do you enjoy writing topical comedy?

JLR: At the moment I’m not really writing on any of those shows. It’s just so much better for my mental health not to have to read the news every day. I still end up doing it though, I don’t know why. All those sort of gag writing jobs, I think of them like playing scales on the piano. They are good for keeping your hand in, good for the muscle memory of how jokes work.

Actually working on topical shows nowadays is more of a challenge than it used to be; now, within 5 or 10 minutes of any story breaking, Twitter is full of hundreds of versions of the first two or three jokes that you will think of on that story. So the challenge is now for people to find the jokes that haven’t already gone all over the internet.

EK: You have also done lots of stand up and shows at the Edinburgh Fringe. Are there any moments that have stood out for you?

JLR: I’ve done it a lot and so now every August bleeds into the next. Going back up to the fringe feels like a continuation of the last one. I’ve done more than a year’s worth of Edinburghs in terms of months.

The most memorable experience was before I was performing. I saw Simon Munnery doing ‘The League Against Tedium’. He entered the tent on the back of a white van with a ship on top of it, wearing a huge top hat and a glove made of dildos and saying, ‘Come on I’ll take you all on’ while the phrase ‘Attention scum!’ blared through the speakers. I’m not sure that will be topped.

EK: Have you taken that challenge on, to bring an entrance like that to your own shows?

JLR: Yes, or at least I think it is important to make a show as memorable as you can. To make something which is exciting in the moment, and then to give enough weird images on stage so that they stick with people after. The job of a comedian, and certainly an absurdist comedian, is to take an audience somewhere they wouldn’t be able to go otherwise.

EK: You also have amazing show titles. How do you come up with them?

JLR: I have come up with a failsafe. If I think of a title and I go ‘Oh I can’t do that’, then it is generally a good idea for a title. If my first impulse is ‘no that won’t work’, then it turns out that that is the one I should use. That’s as detailed as I can be on that.

EK: Your latest title is particularly challenging. How do you actually say it?

JLR: Ah yes, ‘All I want to do is [FX: GUNSHOTS] With a [FX: GUN RELOADING] and a [FX: CASH REGISTER] and Perform Some Comedy!’ [or AIWDI💥💥💥💥WA🔫AA💸APSC! for short]. I would generally say it but it is also completely legitimate to do the sound effects instead.

EK: Your show has jokes about the Spice Girls and their forgotten members. This seems very topical as the Spice Girls are about to go on tour without Posh. If they asked, would you replace her and which character would you use?

JLR: Yes, I would. I would probably replace her with either Facts About the Romans Spice, who just does facts about the romans, or probably Crone Spice who is an old patriarchal archetype of a witch. She always goes down very well with an audience and will just go through cursing people who aren’t entering into the spirit of things. I think Crone Spice would probably be the right one to do. Yeah, she could even throw a few hexes in. You couldn’t say you hadn’t had a memorable time at a Spice Girls concert where that started happening.

EK: You are a co-founder of the Alternative Comedy Memorial Society. Are there any exciting acts or moments that you’ve seen as a part of that?

JLR: We only book acts we find exciting. And there have been some things happen that I’m not sure have ever happened again. One of the best moments was a few years ago now. There’s an Edinburgh show called ‘A Young Man Dressed as a Gorilla Dressed as an Old Man Sits Rocking in a Rocking Chair for 56 Minutes and Then Leaves’ and that’s what the show is, and nobody knows who the Gorilla is. At ACMS we did, I think it was, ‘A Young Man Dressed as a Gorilla Dressed as an Old Man Sits Rocking in a Rocking Chair for 7 Minutes and Then Leaves While a Viking does a Sudoku’. But the best thing about it is that it was podcast. Somebody recorded that and there is a 7-minute audio only version of that happening. That is probably the most quintessentially ACMS thing that has ever happened.

EK: You are currently touring ‘AIWDI💥💥💥💥WA🔫AA💸APSC!’. Do you have a favourite place to go on tour?

JLR: There are certain places which are always fun. Manchester is one of them, Bristol is another, Bath actually is another, Glasgow, Liverpool. The audiences are always really good there.

EK: After the tour will you be going to the Edinburgh Fringe later this year, what is the title of the show you’ll be doing?  

JLR: I am. You might want to check the website for the exact wording but it’s ‘After Me Comes the Flood (But in French) drip splosh splash drip BLUBBP BLUBBP BLUBBPBLUBBPBLUBBP!!’  [we checked, it’s correct down to the last blubbp]

EK: And finally, do you have any advice, general or comedy related, for students?

JLR: For life advice I’d say my degree [English Literature] has never been of any use to me, so you don’t need to worry too much. The education was fantastic but, in terms of career, I have never had to show my class to anyone. So I’m very glad of the education, but the amount of work I put in was a complete waste of time.

In terms of comedy; learn how to stick to your guns and know that what you’re are looking for is the cross section of what you find funny and what an audience finds funny. You don’t want to go too far to them [the audience] because you’ll end up hating your act, and you can’t stay just in the stuff that you like because it might be that nobody else likes it. You want to be in that sweet spot where you are doing things you love, but there are still enough other people who like it to fill a room.

To see John-Luke in Bath, get to the Rondo theatre on the 12th of April.

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