The title of this latest stand-up show from Robert Newman encapsulates the humour contained therein: from the popular culture of Bonny Tyler to the philosophical principles of the enlightenment, the show contains the erudite exposure of philosophical myths through the medium of self-deprecation and unique and intimate observations of everyday life.
The show opened with an exploration of a central philosophical argument – nature versus nurture – and particularly the educational philosophy which has underpinned all teaching in this country for the last fifty years plus and in Robert’s opinion has led to the detrimental system we have now of “teaching to the test”. He focused particularly on the work of educational psychologist Cyril Burt, his exploration of inherited intelligence and the absurdity of his position of “original ignorance”. Burt has subsequently been exposed as a liar, cheat and fraud who went to the extreme lengths of inventing academic colleagues and rigging statistics in order to prove his theories and underline his elitist prejudices. And as well as comedically undermining Burt’s academic bona fides Rob also explored the actual implications of this prejudice by regaling the appreciative audience with stories from his own life – his adoption, his experiences of his young daughter’s education, and references to a whole range of celebrities. The mocking of Brian Cox and Paul McCartney in particular, to prove various points, had me smirking from ear to ear.
During the course of the show many philosophers were covered, from Pythagoras, through St Augustine, Descartes (of course), Charles Darwin, to Sartres. Robert was very contemptuous of Sartre’s philosophy that “hell is other people” and certainly did not evidence any moments of existential dread during the show. He also, rather charmingly and disarmingly, re-enacted Darwin’s loving observation of the development of his own child and juxtaposed this with discrediting such philosophical theories/questions as “I doubt therefore I am”; “I think therefore I am” and the ideas of human superiority which has led to widespread contempt for others and the planet we live on. And on to such modern philosophical issues as “we share 98% of our DNA with chimpanzee’s”; Judith Thompson’s 'fat man on the bridge' question, the ethical governance of AI, the Turing test and the wish of some people to escape the limitations of their wet wear.
This all sounds very weighty and unamusing, but is actually where Robert Newman’s comic genius comes into its own – by taking complex ideas and illustrating them with practical experience and sophisticated observational comedy, he is able to weave a complex narrative which is still easily comprehensible, relatable and at times hilarious. As well as bringing enthusiasm and humour to the somewhat dry topic of philosophy, as the late, great Jeremy Hardy noted, Rob’s “funny voices” and impersonations bring great warmth and humour to his show – perfectly illustrated by his Ronnie Corbett impression.
Whilst Robert’s show can seem at times like somewhat shambolic pontificating, this belies the sophistication of the topics covered and the complex threads of debunking, observational humour and wicked mimicry contained in this show. These threads were all woven together in a complex, original, thought-provoking and laughter-inducing final joke bringing us merrily to “the sarcastic ridicule of sea horses”. Not only were we smiling when we left the theatre, but Robert’s infectious humour encouraged us to question the philosophies which underpin our lives and ever so slightly moderated our world view for the better.