Robin Ince's Book Club
Tim Clark21 May 2007
Packed with mime, accordions, graph jokes, oh and some book readings, Robin Ince's Book Club's got it all. Jess Holland meets the man who made it happen
Robin Ince's Book Club is probably the only comedy club in the country where the compère will announce: "Next: improvised accordion jazz mime to a Mills and Boon novel of your choice." It's a place where fantastic stand-up Natalie Hayes can construct an entire set around a Murder She Wrote novel, and where host Robin Ince can get the audience giggling uncontrollably at Daily Mail headlines ('Does This French Woman Have Princess Diana's Kidneys?', 'Illegal Immigrant Eats Raw Swan') and a passage from a book called What God Does When Women Pray.
Ince created the monthly club in the gaps between touring as a stand-up, writing a mockumentary film about a children's dance show, performing on radio and TV, and doing the odd appearance on The Office. Loosely based around readings from books, the club fosters risk-taking and innovation.
Ince explains how it all began: "I was performing a show in which I would read from Syd Little's autobiography, Little Goes A Long Way, with the music of Philip Glass as a backdrop. I enjoyed that, so I thought I would find other peculiar books and read them out with incongruous music: Mills and Boon with Elgar, caravanning books with Krautrock. Then I thought that might make an interesting linking device for slightly more oddball acts like Gawk-a-go-go and Josie Long. It went from there to become the barely heard of, loss-making phenomenon it is now."
But the self-deprecating Ince fails to mention the critical acclaim and awards the Book Club has won in the last eighteen months. He has a knack for spotting the best of young comedic talent, like 28 year-old stand-up Isy Suttie. The show she took to Edinburgh last year, Take a Break Tales by Danielle Ward, was developed at Ince's night, and her gentle, offbeat tales of life in her home town of Matlock, Derbyshire make her a perfect Book Club performer.
This craft-loving if.commedie award-winner celebrated Kindness and Exuberance in her recent tour. Still only 21, this Footlights member has a clever, quick-fire style. Writer for the BBC and author of Edinburgh show Take a Break Tales, Danielle Ward is definitely on the up. As well as a sharp roster of character skits, Jo Neary's best material comes from her childhood diary.
"I think audiences are hungry for something different from the norm," Danielle says. "When alternative comedy first came about, it grew organically and fed a hunger. A new style can only survive if there are willing consumers who aren't just consuming it because their friend told them it tasted nice. Well, it can start off like that but then people have got to eat it, and chew it, and like it. I think it can only happen healthily if it happens organically, and Book Club did."
A Place to Experiment
The night's air of literate savvy and underdog nerdiness is a welcome reprieve from the usual loud-mouthed piss-taking. There's a genuine feeling of community, perhaps enhanced by Ince's willingness to poke fun at his own line-up. ("That started out so well!" he says, when one sketch fizzles out).
He shies away from the suggestion that the club is breaking new ground, describing it instead as "a place to fail without fear and hopefully discover something interesting on the way". Drawing an allusion with the music world, he approves of "a comedy world that smacks of [former Auteurs singer] Luke Haines as well as Girls Aloud. [One where] acts can experiment a little bit and not fear being odder than average."
Since starting at The Albany in Great Portland Street back in January 2005, the Book Club has now moved down the road to UCL's Bloomsbury Theatre, where you'll be able to catch the 'Horror' edition on Friday 13 April. But that's not all Ince is planning. After a wearying run of stand-up shows and the launch of his film Razzle Dazzle in Berlin this February, he's fantasising about starting his own bookshop.
That dream may have to wait though, as Book Club hits the road soon, stopping off at the "very lovely" Latitude festival in Suffolk and, of course, he's continuing his tour "as Ricky Gervais's support gimp" until October.
It's a hectic schedule for a polymath with more pies than fingers. And although there's a buzz growing around Ince and his troupe of kooky comics, the Book Club - still at intimate venues - feels like a brilliant secret once you stumble across it. So if you're the sort of person who's thrilled by an vaudeville-style song about the history of Europe (the Swedish hard rock band, not the continent) rejoice and get down there; you've found a family.
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