Edinburgh Festival `98: The reinvented man

Comedy: Rob Newman: Assembly rooms
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THE FIRST thing that strikes you as you sit, waiting for Rob Newman to make his entrance, is the packed auditorium. It should not be that surprising, really. Newman was, after all, one of the biggest attractions only a few years ago; he's hardly a new talent. But still, having been away for almost four years writing a book, and having kept a very low profile, there is no reason why the young Newman and Baddiel aficionados of the early 1990s would still want to see him. Few of them, I imagine, are here.

Newman, though, has turned this to his advantage. Without the burden of a continuous following, coming to the festival has given him carte blanche to reinvent himself. More mature and serene, Newman's stand-up routine is funny, original and quite grown-up, really. And he appears comfortable with it.

He tackles political issues head-on, not afraid of making a serious point, about the greed of big business, say, perfectly disguised in a sarcastic quip. The show also provides some more basic humour, most notably the story of Newman's break-up with his girlfriend at Tribal Gathering last year. Its finale, which includes a pendant, a projector and adultery (in no particular order) borders on the absurd. And herein lies Newman's skill. He combines surreal events with mundane situations to great effect. Add a couple of excellent impersonations and the cocktail on offer is pretty much complete. "You forget how great stand-up is," he told me afterwards. And we'd almost forgotten how good he is. Newman by name, new man by nature.

Rob Newman is at the Assembly Rooms until 31 August