Robin Ince, award winning writer, comedian, TV and radio personality, presenter, and “all round popular culture pundit and film expert”, was born 20th February 1969. Having recently won the Time Out Award for Outstanding Achievement in Comedy for his show The Book Club, Robin began his bright career by writing for shows such as Alistair McGowen’s Big Impression, Norton and Meet Ricky Gervais– a working relationship that has since seen him supporting Ricky Gervais on his Politics tour and several others around the UK, even appearing on the DVDs!
Robin also appeared briefly in The Office as an interviewee (we’ll wait whilst you rush through old episodes to find him!). Robin embarked on his solo debut at the Edinburgh Festival in 2004, and has returned to the fringe yearly ever since. In 2005 Robin started the comedy night The Book Club, primarily based around his ongoing search to answer the question- “is hideous prose and ghastly poetry more fabulous than great literature?”. The show led to him winning the innovation award at the 2006 Chortle Awards. As a consequence of years spent rummaging through charity shops, skips and jumble sales, Robin wrote The Bad Book Club (released July 2010), which compiles the defining collection of the world’s worst books, a hilarious read that caused a stir across the country.
Thank you for letting us interview you, with your Happiness Through Science show having just seen you in Stratford and Northampton (a show where you discussed the human condition- “How can you be happy and rational at the same time?”), we’re lucky to have caught you!
Q: OK, so did you always want to be a comedian, or did you have other ideas when you were young?
– I always wanted to be a performer or writer, at least I did after I went through the usual “I want to be a zoo keeper” phase of childhood.
Q: Whilst working with Ricky Gervais, the Politics DVD extras show him winding you up in all sorts of ways, but it hasn’t stopped you working with him often since! What’s it like being friends with Stephen Merchant, Ricky and Karl Pilkington?
– I don’t really know Karl, we have met occasionally and generally Ricky is so busy trying to create an uncomfortable situation it is hard to see it beyond the vision of a malevolent Puck. As for Ricky, I’ve known him since he was a lazy ents officer occasionally managing Queen tribute bands, he remains roughly as he has always been, it’s just that his making of screeching noises is occasionally interrupted by a phone call from Burt Reynolds. Steve is wonderful to talk to about stand up, when we have gigged together we will spend the time afterwards dissecting stand up. I don’t really hang around with any of them much, Ricky prefers to annoy me on the phone – so I don’t think I can really answer what it is like to be friends with them all because I don’t really have that relationship with them.
Q: If you could have three wishes, what would they be?
– My first wish would be to get rid of the idea of magical wishes as it ruins my position as a rationalist, then that would save time with the other two.
Q: So, the Bad Book Club. What made you come up with the concept? Have you been surprised at how popular the idea has become?
– I love books- it is an addiction, but a benevolent one. When I was touring I was always hanging around charity shops picking up published oddities. One night I found a book called The Stage Movie Review, a highly descriptive encyclopedia of one reel porno movies, page after page of minute detail- what colour the furniture people were being fellated on etc. I happened to be playing a cinema that night so I read from it on stage. Later Danny Wallace recommended Sid Little’s autobiography to me, so I read from that with the accompaniment of some Philip Glass music and things just moved on from there. I am looking forward to doing a special Bad Science Book Club with Alan Moore where we will read from peculiar books about astronauts making Jesus and that type of thing.
Q: Do you think there is a particular era of publishing where you find books applicable for the bad book club?
– There are oddities from all eras of publishing, but I have found the 60s and 70s to be very rich- the New English Library had an incredible roster of killer crabs and lusty bikers.
Q: How does a book qualify for your bad book collection? Have you ever had an insulted author contact you?
– They are books I enjoy reading, I do really enjoy them and I hope celebrate them too. Guy N Smith, author of the Crabs books has been in contact and I think he knows it is all meant fondly.
Q: Do you think you’ll ever end your charity shop quest and find the ultimate “bad book”?
– I am after Hobbies for the Bedbound, a mythic book that I was once told existed.
Q: Do readers suggest new books for you to try? What’s the best/worst recommendation you’ve had?
– My friend Neil Edmond donated his mutated animals books and they have been a rich source of joy. Sometimes bad books are just dull, and sometimes they are too deliberately bad, overall the readers have had a keen eye for a literary treat.
Q: This month you begin a show called ‘Uncaged Monkeys: Night of 200 Billion Stars’ alongside Brian Cox, Ben Goldacre, Simon Singh, Helen Arney and even Tim Minchin. The idea of the show is to “bring the wonder of science to theatres around the country”. The show also involves comedy and music. How difficult was it to mix the exploration of science, with music and comedy for a few hours on-stage? And what can your fans expect?
– We’ve just started the shows. Last night saw the birth of a new musical duo, with Brian on piano and Tim on guitar, which was pretty special. The audience will find the ins and outs of enigma machines, why statistics lie and the advantages of the strong anthropic principle in household disputes.
Q: From the basis of The Bad Book Club, you’d have a field day at the World of Books HQ! World of Books is dedicated to providing good-quality second-hand books to the public. In a world with an ever-growing digital media base, and increasing environmental concerns, do you believe in the importance of giving each physical book the chance of a new home?
– The sharing of books is the sharing of ideas and joy, the idea of any book being landfill is disturbing and wrong to me. Share your books and share your passions.
Why not head on down to Robin’s show now and in the following months? More details can be found on his site.