Sleep, Talk and Time

Rob Auton has told the Funniest Joke at the Fringe during the Edinburgh Festival. He repeats that one, and a few others.

A clip of award winning poet and comedian Rob Auton performing on Comedy Central has recently gone viral with over five million views on Facebook. Alongside stand-up his spoken word pursuits include appearing as a poet on ITV’s Cold Feet, having his poetry turned in to short films for Channel 4’s Random Acts, hosting the best poetry night in the country (voted by The Times) and being Glastonbury’s poet in residence.

He’s recently dipped his toe in to music through supporting 6Music favourites, psychedelic punk rock band The Lovely Eggs on tour. Now he tells us about being back on the road with the second best reviewed show from the 2018’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The Guardian described you as “The Brian Cox of comedy” – for those who don’t know you, how would you describe what you do?

“I think that comparison was drawn because during an interview I saw a duck on the canal through the Guardian’s office window and said ‘that’s a nice Mallard.’ I guess it’s do with the fact that I try to look at subjects and explore them for myself and get excited by thinking about things in the world and Brian Cox does that too.

“Every year since 2012, I have written an hour-long show on a specific theme and taken it up to the Edinburgh Fringe. I try not to worry about what genre it is; I just want to make a show that I value. If I have a funny idea, it can go in, if I have a more serious point then that can go in too. I put a word in the middle of spider diagram and go to work on it. The first year was a show about the colour yellow called The Yellow Show.

“I made 3D style glasses with yellow acetate for the audience to wear so they saw the show through yellow tinted glasses. The show included bits about big car sponges and bananas, yoke, and I played Yellow Submarine on repeat at the start. I really enjoyed the experience and enough people did too for me to want to do a show the next year.

“So in 2013, I did a show about the sky called The Sky Show, 2014 was The Face Show, 2015 was The Water Show, 2016 was The Sleep Show, 2017 was The Hair Show, where I grew my hair and didn’t shave for eighteen months, and 2018 was The Talk Show. This year the word in the middle of the spider diagram is Time and is called The Time Show, which I’ll be taking to the Edinburgh Fringe in August.”

You went from working in an advertising agency to an art shop, how did you make the transition to performing?

“I was working in advertising as someone who comes up with ideas for adverts but the vast majority of my ideas were not suitable so I started to really retreat into my notebooks. I would unleash my frustration with the advertising industry on the pages and really basked in the freedom of the fact I could write or draw absolutely anything I wanted.

“Some of the things I wrote down were short stories or alternative scripts for adverts, just ideas I wanted to keep really. The creative director of the agency I worked at was a real artist at heart, always drawing and painting and writing but somehow he had managed to adapt his output so it was suitable for advertising. One day he said, ‘I’m having a fireworks party at my house, there will be some of us reading a bit of poetry, do you want to come?’

“I didn’t know if my stuff was poetry or not and I still don’t but I asked if I could read some of the ideas from my notebooks out. That was my first gig in 2007. After that, he asked me to join his poetry night called Bang Said The Gun.

“I started doing poetry nights, then someone asked me to do an alternative comedy night, and I started doing more and more. Anywhere that would have me really. I left advertising in 2009 and got a job in an art shop to pay my bills and then left that in 2012 and have been doing this full time since then.”

You mentioned each of your shows has a specific theme. How do you land on topics to address in each show?

“Basically I want to write about something that isn’t going to change anytime soon. Yellow, the sky, the fact that people have faces and water exists. I want the shows to stand the test of time so I can go back and perform bits from them in the future. Donald Trump is temporary.

“With The Talk Show I wanted to focus on my need to talk and how I struggle in isolation and I think I will be able to say that until I die, or maybe I will not want to talk when I’m older. Perhaps in 2051- The Silence Show.”

Who are your inspirations?

“Brian Cox mainly. No, not really. I think he is inspired to talk about what is in our world though and I am a signed up member of that squad for sure. If you are talking about individuals then I would say Ivor Cutler, Bob Dylan, Tom Waits, Francis Bacon, Werner Herzog and John Lennon amongst others. I take direct inspiration from people in bad moods on trains and impatient people in post office queues.”

The Talk Show was the second best reviewed show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in August, what can audiences expect from it?

“Audiences can expect a lanky man from Yorkshire trying to come to terms with the fact that when he talks words come out of his mouth and the fact that other people do that too. I think it’s the show I have enjoyed performing the most, so fingers crossed I can work hard and do a good job on this tour.”

You have been on tour with The Lovely Eggs, a psychedelic punk rock band. What is it like to open up for a punk band? Are music crowds receptive to a spoken word support act?

“I have loved their music for a while so when I got the email asking me to support them I was really chuffed. Their fanbase is made up of quite a far out, genuine, homemade bunch so the vast majority of the gigs were massively enjoyable. The main difference was the fact that the crowds were standing up and were really close to the stage.

“I felt quite penned in a lot of the time, me looking at three hundred people’s faces who were looking at me. It was intimate and intimidating and felt like combat, but I hope I learnt a lot. Most of the crowds gave me a chance to say my piece apart from in Glasgow where they did not.

You won Dave Funniest Joke Of The Fringe. Can you tell us what the joke was? How was it received?

“I heard a rumour Cadbury’s are releasing an oriental chocolate bar, could be a Chinese Wispa. It got a mixed reception.”

Rob Auton plays the Glee Club on 26th February. Tickets