Evolved Comedy: Robert Newman

Achieving a full house on a wet Monday night at Soho Theatre in January was never going to be a problem for Rob Newman – being one of the first comedians, along with David Baddiel, to play and sell out Wembley Arena in 1993.

But if it was the same stadium ‘comedy rock’ the audience was after, there’s no doubt some will have left disappointed.

More science lecture than typical stand-up routine – Robert Newman’s New Theory of Evolution is an often impressive, partly political and infrequently laugh-out-loud meander through modern theories of Darwinism.

According to Newman, the Richard Dawkins ‘Selfish Gene’ school of evolution misses the point that co-operation is key for human development. And individuals who approach the world differently help advance the whole species – an idea that he beautifully sums up as ‘survival of the misfits.’

As well as unpacking decades of theory, mapping the dog-eat-dog view of nature onto capitalist ideology, and weaving in fun facts about the French resistance; during the 90 minutes he also finds time for Ronnie Corbett impressions and comically bad songs accompanied by a ukulele.

Some folk will feel Newman has bitten off more than he can chew with this densely-packed show (which feels like it should come with a bibliography). In fact, it was telling that the most concentrated laughter occurred when he ditched the science to do a brilliant two-minute sketch on his neighbours instead.

But in a world where standard-issue, McIntyre Roadshow-ready comedy prevails, I applaud his efforts to do something that is, well, just a bit weird.

Newman may have been partly responsible for spawning this kind of stand-up in the first place, but since then he’s shunned the limelight to become many different things, including a novelist and activist, stagnant he ain’t.

Although I’m not convinced his show completely hits the mark comedy-wise, seeing this incredibly gifted performer turn his talents on such a weighty subject is still a treat.

For something different from the standard breed of comedy, this is well worth a watch.

Long live the misfits!

Robert Newman’s New Theory of Evolution is running from Monday 10 February to Saturday 15 February, 9pm at:

The Soho Theatre
21 Dean St

Tel: 020 7478 0100

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