COMEDY / Call me Robert: Robert Newman - Royal Festival Hall

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The Independent Culture
When he was just plain Rob Newman, amiable stand-up, he played Wembley Arena with David Baddiel. Now, as Robert Newman, demi-god of comedic literature, he launched his first national solo tour at the Royal Festival Hall.

Presumably, when he becomes Sir Robert, ageing rock knight, he'll choose to play the Comedy Store, perverse to the last.

As it turned out, though, the RFH (3,700 to Wembley's 12,000) was about the largest venue any stand-up would want to perform in; and, to his credit, Newman was able to banter comfortably with the farthest-flung rows.

Stumbling occasionally, he felt his way in with some illegal-substance patter ('I've changed my attitude to drugs now I've got some cash') which, though technically new material, had a horribly familiar ring: he'd used it on Saturday night's Danny Baker Show.

By the end of the first, stand-up section, he'd re-run the entire chat-show, enlivened only by out-takes from his novel. So intense was Dependence Day's PR campaign, you didn't need to have read the thing to find the routine about the coked-up Peruvian swallow stirring an uneasy sense of deja entendu.

But the show's second part, devoted to the delectable Jarvis, more than made up for all this. Newman's sleazy aristo-perv is a monster creation, able to bring a hush of anticipation with nothing more than a saucily tongued plume of cheroot smoke. 'That last bit didn't rhyme,' he interrupts himself mid-song, 'but the fact that you expected it to, and I disappointed you, turned me on.'

Expert stand-up though he is (his control of 'my people' is exemplary), there is always the suspicion of a rampant ego. He may now consider himself, not only a prince of comedy, but comedy's Prince.

First, there's the name change. Second, there's the studlike demeanour.

Then, in a double-bluff designed to divert attention from his own mania, come the mocking references to the Minneapolis Symbol and his messiah-like antics. Finally, as if further proof were needed, he uses purple (yes purple) lighting. And the backdrop depicts, and this is the clincher, a stylised sun with a squiggly SYMBOL in the centre.

With the novel out of the way, it can't be long before Newman records his debut album, and rock 'n' roll will at last have become the new rock 'n' roll. And we can all sleep soundly again.

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