Rob Newman’s latest show, New Theory of Everything, is actually his first stand-up show in seven years, having been kept busy writing his book The Trade Secret and starting a fledgling family. It is perhaps this shying away from the public eye that results in the half-full crowd for the first of his two-night run at Colston Hall’s Lantern venue, despite the fact that Newman is an erudite and thoughtful performer.
His show is supposedly based on the theory that cooperation drives evolution more than competition, going against the hegemonic discourse of Richard Dawkins and his ‘Selfish Gene’ proposition. His attack on Dawkins is one of the shows highlights, enacting the scene when a postman friend of his attempts to deliver a parcel to Dawkin’s Oxford mansion. What results is a bare-chested caveman tussle in a ring of urine as Dawkins tries to prove game theory. Newman posits that the idea of a selfish gene is one that links back to Original Sin rather than the Origin of Species, and he’s not having any of it.
Much of Newman’s material is verbally dense, full of Latin phrases and scientifically loaded, which alas means that much of it sails past The Fix and the jokes get lost in a sea of rapid lexicon. This is something that Newman himself is well aware of, humourously muttering “I can’t believe I’m not playing the bigger venues” and that “I’m sacrificing rhythm for factual accuracy.” The show stumbles somewhat between fast-paced polemics, sideline rambles and mental blocks, and mixture which actually comes across as quite endearing and works in his favour.
The better material comes when Newman strays from his lesson plan, railing against the romantic idea of the French Resistance, arguing that there were less member of this rebellious crew than there were musicians in Dexy’s Midnight Runners. He claims that he simply cannot write an autobiography, as all of his childhood stories are horribly clichéd – he distinctly remembers, at the age of four, seeing a dog running out of a butcher’s shop with a string of sausages in it’s mouth.
He does a great and unexpected impression of Ronnie Corbett as the Russian Karla from Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, and riffs on the idea that a supposed ‘homeless gene’ is late-onset. A domesticated middle class couple in suburbia suddenly start running meth and fighting each other over the bottle of Chablis. All in all, it is an enjoyable show with some great ideas, though one which perhaps unfortunately spotlights Newman’s lack of recent practice in stand up.
Read our interview with Rob Newman