John Robins has an immensely appealing natural comedic style. He can improvise and play nicely with the audience but also has the ability to write cerebral, emotionally intelligent material. All of this makes a ticket to one of his shows a safe bet in terms of quality and enjoyment. The content, however, isn't "safe": The Darkness of Robins is full of raw, frank and naked exposition, as we journey into the comedian's hang-ups, heartbreak and pain.
His 2014 show, This Tornado Loves You, centred on his love for his then girlfriend, comedian Sara Pascoe. Three years on and it’s a stark contrast – this time it's all about their break-up and is brutally candid, yet quirkily poetic in its description. The fact that both are well-known, well-respected and popular comedy figures is relevant, as the sense of familiarity makes it all the more emotive. Of course, this is entertainment: it would be naïve to assume that everything said on stage was true, or that we in any way know the characters involved, but there's a heartfelt genuineness to Robins' delivery that certainly makes it appear so. He is (understandably, given his subject matter) less ebullient and more melancholic and angry than usual, which takes an edge off his usual cheeky playfulness.
Robins' signature nerdiness is still in evidence though, something that has helped him reach cult status as a digital DJ alongside Elis James on Radio X. A section of the show involving a description of his fastidiousness in never losing a debit card (versus his ex-girlfriend's "free-spirited" attitude that resulted in the loss, on average, of one a quarter) is typical of the way he turns banality into hilarity. By contrast, the poignant lament of his final meal with his girlfriend, is heart-rending and moving.
Robins metaphorically strips himself (and his relationship) bare before us, with some fairly graphic imagery and details that enable us to immerse in his story. And it is then, once we are immersed, that he takes us on an emotional rollercoaster: bringing us almost to tears in the final few minutes, before ending on a clever, funny, call back that turns the atmosphere on a pin-head, resulting in a giant laugh as he leaves the stage.
A story of one man's hurt could easily become a self-indulgent affair, but here everything is related back regularly to that which is universal and recognisable – the widely shared themes of love, loss and relational disillusion. I felt Robins seemed slightly less focused and sharp than usual at this performance, but he is nonetheless one of the most interesting comedians on the circuit and here delivers a thoughtful, well-crafted show.