Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Rob Newman's History of Oil

I interviewed Rob (Robert) Newman, oh, 12 years ago, when his first, critically acclaimed and very short novel, Dependence Day, came out. Then, he was in the immediate aftermath of the Baddiel/Newman pioneering of superstar mega-comedy, to which I was largely immune. Much later, I hosted an STV programme from the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and one of the items was a film about impressionists (comedians not painters) presented by mainstream comic Phil Cool. I've never forgotten Newman's deconstruction of his approach to impersonating then-Tory leader William Hague: He doesn't speak, he told Phil C, he sings. Several attempts at singing a la Hague later, I realised how phenomenally accurate that was...go on. Have a shot yourself.
Anyway, Newman was then in the early stages of his overt political activism, and a TV documentary called Scribbling about the writing of his anti-globalisation novel The Fountain At the Centre of the World, portrayed him as a shambling wreck on the verge of homelessness and, it seemed, mental and phsyical disintegration. This is what happens when comics try to get above themselves, I thought. Just because you went to Cambridge don't mean you're an intellectual, sonny. Do William Hague again! eat some meat!
Still, bought the book, an exasperating read, spasmodically brilliant but fatally weighed down by its didacticism. That was that, I thought. Small scale tours of what seemed like political lectures popped up on the edges of my radar (Lemon Tree etc). He was still alive and functioning. And then, late last night, I was scrolling through Metafilter and found this. Rob Newman's History of Oil. It's a 45- minute film of a live appearance by Newman in London, and it seems at last Newman has melded his talents as a mimic and verbal comic with his political agenda. It is scintillating, stimulating, brilliantly hilarious stuff. And edgy in a way Rory Bremner can only dream of: The Blair-as-Goebbels routine is breathtaking.
Check it out at Google Video. Newman's own website is here.

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