COMEDY / Clever clogs replay

'IT'S GOOD to see a graduate making something of himself for a change,' observes a rough and ready individual in the queue for complimentary Robert Newman tickets. 'Normally they just do eff-all and live off the state.'

The most interesting thing about Newman & Baddiel as a double act, which continues to be interesting now their ways have parted, is that they have never been ashamed to wear their learning on their sleeves in front of a mass audience. (Gary Bushell is there tonight, and it takes a powerful cultural force to get him into the Royal Festival Hall.) To a generation growing up to see a career as an impossible dream, they have offered the precious spectacle of young men using their educations to make a living.

In this context, writing a novel was the perfect next step for Robert (ne Rob) Newman. Dependence Day (Century, pounds 8.99) is not the sort of book his critics wanted him to write - not nearly as embarrassing as expected.

And if, in Newman's attempt to cultivate a literary mien on a promotional budget of Naomi Campbell proportions, there a hint of having his cake and eating it, well, what can you do with a cake but eat it?

There is an awkward moment just before Newman dances on-stage when it looks as if the scrum of people trying to get autographs from his former partner, now in the audience, aren't going to sit down in time. They do, and it soon becomes clear that Newman's sleepy eyes have not lost the power to bore into young women's hearts. Few other performers in the distinguished history of this venue can have had 'There's a bra on the stage for you' shouted at them.

Everything seems to be in place - the launch party for the video of the show takes place immediately afterwards - and yet Newman's actual set is something of a half-decorated flat. Some of it is very elegant, but the rest needs work. The verbatim chunks from his novel, cheekily recycled, work well; as does the familiar Newman style of circuitous story-telling, but his confidence that he 'can always find his way back to the comedy road' is not wholly justified. Memo to comedians: Stephen Milligan and Prince are no longer topical.

When Newman repeats a routine that he did, pretty much word for word, on The Danny Baker Show the Saturday before, there is some uneasy shifting in the crowd. It's a typically convoluted flight of fancy (I hope it's a flight of fancy) about walking the streets of London as a woman in order to write a book about it. This story deconstructs itself so thoroughly that by the end virtually nothing remains, and the audience is left with a feeling of dissatisfaction that is actually quite interesting.

Something similar happens to the evening as a whole. As Jarvis - the smoking-jacketed libertine - Newman pulls off a daring and funny Noel Coward-style number about debauching the homeless, but the show ends anti-climactically. Newman leaves us in some confusion as to whether to expect a second encore, and everyone wanders off home looking slightly puzzled.

Cheltenham Town Hall, 0242 227979, tonight; Worthing Pavilion, 0903 820500, tomorrow; then touring to 5 Dec.

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