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"This isn't regular normal comedy": Comedian Rob Auton on his personal new show at Edinburgh Fringe

Rob Auton
Rob Auton Copyright Julian Ward
Copyright Julian Ward
By Jonny Walfisz
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Euronews Culture sat down with Rob Auton to discuss how he’s getting his human experience during his Edinburgh Fringe show (one of our top picks of the festival).

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Throughout his latest show, the comedian Rob Auton routinely announces that he’s trying to have a “human experience.” At first he shouts it triumphantly, embracing the highs and lows of modern life. Later, he’ll skewer it with a dampened delivery over an embarrassing anecdote.

Embracing the human experience however comes with its ups and downs. On the day we spoke, an audience member managed to get backstage to ask for a selfie as the show was starting. Despite the voiceover introducing Auton to the stage, she persisted. He pointed to her to go through the curtain.

Auton spent the first few minutes of the show explaining to the audience why a drunk lady had walked on stage first instead of him. 

“15 minutes into the show and she was asleep. She was hammered,” Auton says. While he’s incorporated some elements of previous shows into his current routine, that one might not make the final cut.

I’ve been following comedian-poet Rob Auton’s career for over a decade. As a teenager, I spent many Thursday nights at the wonderful BANG Said The Gun event above the Roebuck pub in London, always in anticipation of his set.

“It was a really special Thursday night. Sometimes the electricity in that room was epic,” Auton recalls. He references the origin of the night in the current show with a story of his first gig at a fireworks party in BANG Said The Gun creator Martin Galton’s garden. “If I did a good gig then, that could have been the best gig I’d have ever done,” he says. “I’m always trying to get back to that.”

Performing the same material day-in-day-out at the Fringe though gives him the opportunity to refine lines to get the perfect delivery. “You find out line-by-line, how to say it.” It suits Auton’s anxious approach to comedy. He records every show to listen back and work out what works and what doesn’t.

David Monteith-Hodge Photographise
Rob Auton on stageDavid Monteith-Hodge Photographise

In a show dedicated to the “human experience,” this precision analysis of the hour-set doesn’t detract from the thrilling reality of being up there on stage. “If you have a spontaneous nice night out at the pub with your mates and then you agree to do it again, same mates, same pub, it’s just not the same,” he explains. “It’s exactly the same on stage.”

In the BANG Said The Gun days, Auton was a quirky comic whose awkward demeanour and earnest poetry divided the room. Silence from those who didn’t get it. Rapturous adoration from those who did.

Auton knows his shtick has divided crowds. He refers to it openly in this show. His calm and unadorned delivery is deliberate. Tune out and you mightn’t notice. But listen in and every word is golden. A decade ago he sometimes lost the Roebuck despite lines as razor sharp as “the watch is the wristband to the festival of punctuality.” This year in Edinburgh, he has the audience in the palm of his hand.

Part of the way he brings people onside is through an outward recognition of his particular brand of comedy. He brings up a reviewer that once said Auton “adopts the persona of an underprepared best man”. 

“I think as long as you let people in, and go, ‘Hey guys, I know this isn't what we will class as regular normal comedy’, people go ‘Oh, okay. He knows’."

Julian Ward
Rob AutonJulian Ward

Over the past 10 years, he’s brought shows to every Fringe, each focused on a specific subject matter (e.g. Sleep, Hair, Faces, Yellow). In 2013, he collected the accolade of Dave’s Best Joke of the Fringe. 

This year, his specific subject isn’t dogs or the dentist or cricket; it’s himself.

Why is it that he has turned the mirror on himself more than ever with a show about himself? In part, it’s because of the poetic neatness of it being the tenth one. Once he’d decided to go with the theme though, Auton found himself pulling out stories from his life like “the guy on Instagram in Amsterdam pulling out things from the canals with a big magnet.” “I wanted to do that, but with my brain,” he says.

“I think about my brain and a lot of stuff that happened when I was a kid all the time and I never talk about it,” he says. “I’m so privileged I haven’t had much trauma in my life but there are all these events like making crab cakes or my dad getting me a job in advertising,” Auton recalls. They might seem like vastly disparate anecdotes but they fit neatly into his overarching theme of celebrating the quotidian wonders of everyday life.

David Monteith-Hodge Photographise
Performing the Rob Auton ShowDavid Monteith-Hodge Photographise

The Rob Auton Show is the slickest, most universally enjoyable show he’s created yet. Impressively, Auton’s not sacrificed an ounce of his unique stage persona to achieve it. In the show, he juxtaposes hilarious stories with heart-rending existential poetry.

A highlight is a glorious retelling of his circumcision coupled with a less than usual visit from the tooth fairy and his mum scolding him: “No, you’re only allowed to get circumcised once!” There’s also an intimate story of his first see-outside-of-school girlfriend and the cricket pitch that plagued his childhood. 

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Over the hour, Auton opens his heart and finds dazzling humour: lines like the one about cling film (“Who do you think you are, the ghost of tinfoil?”), but also piercing observations about the difficulties he’s faced. It’s a funny, deeply personal show from one of the loveliest comics at the Fringe.

The experience of growing with the Fringe — from early days of flyering in a paddling pool with his posters in an outstretched pool noodle — has seen Auton reach a point where his gigs are guaranteed crowds. But he’s never complacent about winning them over. Each time on stage is just as wonderfully terrifying as the last, he explains. 

“The human experience is always so wild. It’s completely unattainable, isn't it? So basically, just try to grab on to moments when they come along, and go ‘I'm going to enjoy this moment’.” 

Rob Auton: The Rob Auton Show is on at 14:25 at the Assembly Roxy - Upstairs of the Edinburgh Fringe until 26 August.

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