Last time John Robins brought a show to the Fringe (The Darkness of Robins), he won the Edinburgh Comedy Award – jointly with Hannah Gadsby. Noticeably absent in 2018, he’s back this year with his latest stand-up offering.
This insightful storyteller isn’t like many other comedians. His humour isn’t easily shoehorned into punchy jokes and the kind of one-liners that work well on panel shows. Yes, there are some shorter, quick release bits, as he reads from his book of Hot Shame. For the most part, though, the piece is crafted long-form that’s constructed from two experiences – one with a holiday and one with a dehumidifier.
Robins apologises if we’ve already heard a lot from other comedians on this latter topic this Fringe, highlighting the nerdy originality of his material. It’s all quirky stuff, yet totally relatable – especially for those of a similar age, knee-deep in the trials and traumas of grown-up life. There’s almost a fragility to him as he exposes his everyday anxieties, neuroticism and overthinking. The disorder that arises from the lives of chaotic people stresses him out, more than it does them. His honesty and inner turmoil are somehow soothing to us, especially if we share these – not uncommon – personality foibles. It’s like watching the tears of a clown – and in laughing at him, he brings us relief, enabling us to laugh at own ridiculousness.
Always one for depth, Robins wades into the topic of the Time’s Up movement. He analyses from the perspective of an enlightened male, compassionate and feminist. It’s well balanced, highlighting millennial males’ passivity and responsibility, while simultaneously exploring the problem of casual dating in the current climate. It’s important stuff, not least as he has a large male following, thanks in part to his radio show with Elis James. Dating is a prolific topic among stand-ups, but in Robins’ hands, it sidesteps any possibility of roaming into hack material territory.
This comedian’s self-derisory style is not unique, but the way he presents it is. There may be less side-splitting laughs in this than other hit shows on the Fringe, but it’s cleverly and artfully constructed by this considered and skilled storyteller. Hot Shame offers pathos, on-point reflection and at the end, an unexpected jolt of hope.