Why We Interviewed Rob Newman – And Why Comedians Can Save The World

Rob Newman in the early 90’s was a floppy-haired sex god! A ‘rock star’ comedian who, along with his partner, David Baddiel, had the world at his feet.

download (5)They became the first comedy act to play Wembley Arena, they had their own TV series on the Beeb, they had beloved comedy characters adored by their obsessed fans, they had catchphrases for god’s sake! They could do no wrong. Yes, for a time they were feted like the young Turks they were. Especially Rob, who was absolutely fucking gorgeous! Go on, check him out on video in this link, and if you ladies and gay men (and even you straight men) don’t feel a stirring in your loins then you’re dead from the waist down.

But then the comedy couple parted amidst rumblings of discontent, if not animus. Although I blame it all on David Baddiel who was no doubt seething with jealousy over Rob’s incandescent good looks and superior talent; or perhaps David’s terminal smugness oozed out one too many times or he had a tantrum over Rob getting the funniest lines in the History Today sketches, who knows?

The interesting thing for us, however, was the path Rob chose to take when he was free to steer his own course. Did he become a bitter recluse, drunkenly lamenting his fading looks in a smelly bedsit and reliving his glory days by watching an endless loop of his comedic triumphs on video? (Cheap laugh Rob, you’re still as cute as a button). No, he did not. Instead, Newman wrote and performed some of the most thought-provoking and inspirational political/philosophical comedy ever to grace a stage. And the fact that you may not have seen these gems is the irony of his presenting a historical/political narrative opposed to one commended by a dominant culture defaulted to freeze out or neutralize anything genuinely challenging, dissenting, or ‘dangerous’.

‘Dangerous’ because work like this might just spark a thought in a listener’s mind that the narratives they have hitherto taken for granted could be false, and most dangerously of all, this could lead to cogitations on why they hadn’t heard the truth before now? What a can of worms that would be! Can you imagine? Best not worry the population’s heads with all that nonsense. Yes, what we really can’t have is a load of people realizing there is more to think about than Harry Styles’ new haircut – Rob Newman’s hair probably had its own fan club back when he enjoyed Styles-like adoration from the ladies, but we would not have been interested in him then.

That’s right. Because we here at BSNews don’t have much truck with ‘celebrities’. In fact, we avoid them like the plague they are, mainly because we currently live in a world where, as I’ve previously written, celebrity culture is characterised by an obsession with only the surface of things, with outward impression, with status; it is a rejection of everything authentic, genuine and meaningful in life and undermines all truly valuable relationship. Yes, that’s how evil Kim Kardashian actually is. If she’d been sent by an alien race to destroy us from within because it was easier than all-out invasion she and her ilk couldn’t be doing a better job. Let’s face it, that ridiculous cartoon arse of hers is more effective than a government mass lobotomy programme. Don’t believe me? Watch this video of US university students struggling to answer the most basic history and politics questions before proudly getting right all the ‘crucial’ ones about deified celebrities.

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Turning just about every potentially profound interaction in your life into a (mostly financial) transaction would be sad enough if it affected only you, but ‘celeb’ culture, like the insidious virus it is, spreads throughout the population draining more and more lives of their beautiful individuality and creative promise, leaving behind mere orange-skinned, designer-clad husks. It is these corpses, roaming the earth like extras from a George A. Romero zombie movie, that infect our culture with the life-denying values that can view even living beings as mere accessories (see the tiny dog in the handbag phenomenon). Now, if you’re not worried by all that then, guess what? – you’re a zombie too!

You can see, then, that we are not the smallest bit interested here in interaction with those who might be considered ‘well known’. And not because we think we’re better than them but….no wait, actually we do think that!

We’d love to put David ‘thickos can become icons kids’ Beckham, Victoria ‘my po-facedness is ironic but so relentless it might as well not be’ and all their annoying kids into a prison cell where they would die from lack of access to Instagram; we’d like to take the drone voiced, dead-eyed Kardashian sisters round a fur farm and make them insert the electric anal rod into the poor animal themselves (used to keep the coat pristine) and then force them to carve the skin off before rushing, draped in it, dripping in fresh blood, to their next pouty, pointless photo-shoot; we’d even like to kidnap This Morning’s Phil and Holly and give them an urgent crash course in the realities of geopolitics so that the next time they interview war criminal Tony Blair they won’t let him get away with such offensive bullshit as ‘it’s the terrorists who kill children, not us’.

Fucking dimwits! That’s what you get when you let a man who trained for broadcasting by talking to a puppet in a cupboard loose on grown-up subjects, and a woman who cavorts with brain-dead royalty on moron fest, Celebrity Juice, within five miles of a serious political interview. Why didn’t they come back at Blair with, ‘but surely you know Mr Blair that a United Nations report found that the sanctions we placed on Iraq even before the 2003 invasion directly caused the deaths of 500,000 children under five?’ Before adding, ‘and you must be aware that a million innocent civilians died as a result of our invasion, many of them, obviously, children?’

Fat chance! How can these terminally uninformed professional arse-lickers ever be expected to grill a corrupt power broker like Blair in any meaningful way? And let’s be honest, if Holly or Phil were in danger of doing so they wouldn’t be fronting a five day a week, two hour programme that’s beamed into millions of British homes would they? They are safe, lightweight and likable establishment figures with enough charm and enough ignorance to ensure they will continue to present This Morning from now until Holly loses her looks or Phil turns out to be a paedophile. These shows employ only people who can be relied upon never to rock the boat – just like corporate journalism, in fact. Truth can never be allowed to seep onto the ‘mainstream’ agenda: Holly: ‘at 10.50 we have Gok’s accessories tips – glitter belts are back!’ Phil: ‘and at 11.05 we talk to historian Mark Curtis about Britain’s history of collusion with radical Islam. See you after the break.’  Never gonna happen.

I feel by now, then, it’s not a mystery to you why we don’t fall over ourselves at BSNews to interview ‘celebs’. But this principle of avoiding the well-known ‘personality’ extends not just to the dullards mentioned but to people who clearly fall outside of the’ fame at any price’, devoid of talent, soul-shriveling succubus cohort. For instance, I love Jim Parsons (Sheldon in the popular comedy show The Big Bang Theory) but if he approached my table in a West End coffee shop whilst on a fleeting visit to London and declared, ‘did I overhear you say BSNews? I love your website! I’m on it all the time! Would you like to interview me?’ I’d say, ‘sorry Sheldon (deliberately using his character’s name to emphasize my indifference) but great though your talent for light dramatic comedy is, and even though I have ‘Big Bang’ on series record, I’m not interested in talking to you. Have a delightful visit’. He’d be stunned, of course, yet kind of intrigued at the same time by my nonchalance and detachment. He’s not used to this reaction, but he’d just have to deal with it ‘cos that’s the way I roll.

I also like Richard ‘I can’t apologise enough for being talented’ Ayoade, but if I saw him wandering around Soho (I actually did, he looked like he’d just come out of a nearby ‘massage’ parlour as he was sweating and adjusting his tie) and he caught my eye and said, ‘Alison! Didn’t you write that incisive analysis of the poisonous effects of corporate journalism, What’s Wrong With Channel 4 News? Would you like to join me for dinner so that you can hear my views on it in more depth?’ I’d say, ‘Richard, I’m grateful for your ‘feedback’ (note the use of that corporate-speak classic) but I really think you should just go home to your wife’.

Richard Ayoade guiltily leaves a Soho sex parlour
Richard Ayoade guiltily leaves a Soho sex parlour

Our first interview on this website, conducted by BSN co-editor Mike Raddie, was with Don Debar, a brilliant independent journalist who bothered to travel to Libya before the NATO invasion. Mike also met the great American journalist, Norman Soloman, who made the must watch documentary narrated by Sean Penn, War Made Easy.

Soloman was charming, readily agreeing to be interviewed by us. But, most excitingly of all, both Mike and I met the incomparable John Pilger, who had actually heard of BSNews through our friends at Media Lens (visit their website and read all their books right now!) David Edwards and David Cromwell. Pilger out-charmed even Norman, managing that rare feat of being both genuinely humble and wildly charismatic at the same time, and he gladly agreed to be interviewed also. I was so happy after that encounter I literally skipped along the pavement for the first time since I was about ten! Btw, I thoroughly recommend skipping as an adult, it’s a wonderfully liberating way to release your inner child.

But I digress. Now to refused interview requests: I asked comedian Mark Steel for an interview via twitter after I watched him speak at a Stop the War event attended by Joe Glenton. Joe is the former British soldier who refused to serve a second tour of Afghanistan on moral grounds, spent five months in a military prison (they don’t give out medals for bravery like that) and is the author of Soldier Box: Why I Won’t Return to the War on Terror. Steel’s speech in support of him impressed upon me that night how skillfully humour can be used to give force to a moral argument.

Steel completely ignored my request though, the cunt, but perhaps he didn’t see it. Maybe he’s not a cunt then, who knows?  We also, a couple of years ago, contacted genius film director and long term activist Ken Loach’s ‘people’ (if there was ever a word that makes my blood boil it’s that one, and now made notorious by Donald Trump always using it just before he’s about to tell another massive and obvious lie) but then I suppose if you’re really, really, busy you might need ‘people’ even if you’re not a racist, misogynist psychopath. Anyhoo, they said Ken might well agree. But then he was too busy, hence his need of ‘people’. (Ken’s latest film, I Daniel Blake, has just won the Palm D’Or at Cannes, apparently reducing hardened critics to tears with its portrayal of a down on his luck man attempting to navigate the brutal benefits system).

We are interested here, then, only in interviewing those who have inspired us, people clearly using their talent, knowledge and creative power to reveal some Truth – yes, with a capital ‘T’! People attempting in some way to peel away the layer upon layer of propaganda poured out upon us 24/7 by the corporate state via all its channels, whether through its stenographic news media (owned by the very corporations it can never hold to account), its ‘churn out compliant automatons’ education system, its degenerate political institutions, its corrupt judiciary, police forces and military, its parasitic royal family, its morally redundant religious institutions, its poisonous economic structures, its venal advertising industry – the whole rotten nexus.

How any citizen survives this relentless onslaught with not only their sanity intact but with enough integrity and energy to overcome the temptation to apathy and focus on the eradication or elucidation of injustice is a source of constant amazement and joy to me. We all do what we can in this regard using whatever gifts we possess: we campaign, we write, we sing, we leaflet, we march, we gather together, we speak, we protest and, like King and Gandhi, we engage in civil disobedience and direct action, all in a sometimes exhausting effort to wake up a majority too hypotized by The Spectacle and too wrapped up in a blood-stained flag to notice the utter contempt in which they are held by the elites they so slavishly defend and worship.

As ex New York Times and now independent journalist (after he spoke out on the Iraq War) Chris Hedges has said: ‘Most people attracted to power…are at best mediocre and usually venal. The question is how to build movements to stop the powerful from doing sustained damage to the citizenry, the nation and the environment.’

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So, when those who are blessed with a public platform use it to speak Truth; when they ridicule (in the very best carnivalesque tradition) the ‘respectable’, maligning the revered exemplars of the establishment’s twisted moral principles, troubling the ‘righteous’ and the pious who preach to us all while protecting, and benefiting from, a system that fucks us all day in, day out; when they explore social injustice, expose hypocrisy, or speak up for the exploited; when they offer us alternative narratives to the ones forced down our throats by the Elites and their vested interests; when they do this, as comedians like Rob Newman, Mark Thomas, Bill Hicks, George Carlin, Lenny Bruce, Frankie Boyle (on a good day) and Russell Brand have done (note the ‘unbiased’ media onslaught Brand has had to endure since nailing his dissident credentials to the church door) then their creative efforts not only begin dissolving the chthonic darkness that envelops us but they uplift and sustain those of us with no such platform.

Now, you may say that creating laughter is uplifting in itself, and those comedians who make us forget our problems, even for a few minutes, are doing sterling work in lightening our load, and all that is undeniably true. But when individuals come along who not only make us laugh but make us think! when they ignite our empathy and challenge our conditioning – when they wake us up! then they transcend the role of mere jester and are in another domain, one supercharged with creative possibility where inspiration can lead to transformation, both personal and, because we are none of us islands, societal.

Oh yes, cynics and naysayers can deny it, but no-one came away from watching legendary comedian and excoriating social philosopher Bill Hicks thinking: ‘what a chucklesome fellow, I feel a lot better now I’ve had a bit of a giggle. Now, where did I put my application form for that marketing job?’ Not if they had a single functioning brain cell. They laughed like drains sure, yet knew they weren’t watching a shallow rib-tickler but someone who was dismantling before their very eyes all of their comfortable assumptions about the society they live in, every word underpinned by a simmering anger about the gap between the way the world is, and how it could be. They didn’t call Hicks’s first live album ‘Dangerous’ for nothing. I’ll let Bill explain: ‘Folks, I could have done that, walked around being a millionaire and franchising myself but no, I had to have this weird thing about trying to illuminate the collective unconscious and help humanity. Fucking moron.” (By the way, I’ll be mentioning Hicks a lot and if you can’t work out why please go back to sleep).

I maintain that all the comedians I’ve listed are not now (although, as Brand admits of himself, they may once have been – Newman too, perhaps?) motivated by personal aggrandisement, a craving for fame, a need for public adoration or the pursuit of money, but by the compulsion, in some form, of which Bill speaks. Rob – for it is he we have interviewed and here’s one of the major reasons why – has given us, for the record, invaluable alternative historical narratives that correct for the redacted and distorted ones taught in schools and promoted through every media channel. His show, From Caliban to the Taliban: 500 Years of Humanitarian Intervention is, I believe, as important a document of suppressed history as anything in Howard Zinn’s classic A People’s history of the United States. I urge you to listen to this extract of Rob’s brilliance, perfectly described in one of the comments below it (by someone clearly unaware of who he is) thusly: ‘this guy is great. I forgive his terrible u.s. dialects. Its like intelligent stand-up plus history lecture plus subversive politics…’

So why is this work so important? Zinn said: ‘I’m concerned that students not become passive acceptors of the official doctrine that’s handed down to them from the White House, the media, textbooks, teachers and preachers.’  He also said: ‘history is important. If you don’t know history it is as if you were born yesterday. And if you were born yesterday, anybody up there in a position of power can tell you anything…’  ..and you will swallow it. This is undeniably true. Look how easy it’s been to fool the public with the most transparent and simplistic lies on WMD’s, or on any of our country’s ‘humanitarian interventions’ in a series of strategically attractive countries that have left a mountain of innocent dead.. These are Mark Curtis’s ‘Unpeople’; the human beings considered as dispensable dross by the criminal warmongers the corporate media regularly invites in for interview as if they’re respected statesmen and women.


When Tony Blair is finally behind bars where he belongs it’ll be no thanks whatsoever to Jon Snow, Krishnan Guru-Murthy or any of the other ‘unrestrained’ and ‘independent’ journalists supposedly speaking Truth to Power in the ‘liberal’ media; those now waiting for Chilcot to tell them what the truth is rather than bothering to find out for themselves; those who should have taken Blair’s original pack of lies apart before the 2003 invasion while they had the chance to save a million lives and who have failed to call him out on all the self-serving crap he’s piled on ever since.

Instead, it’s, ‘thank you so much Mr. Blair for taking the time to talk to us at Channel 4 News’. Oh, fuck off Jon and Krish! If either of you had the moral courage to make a citizen’s arrest of the bastard you might redeem yourselves but don’t insult our intelligence and moral sense by bolstering his PR image as a respectable commentator, and by corollary, decent human being. How can someone treated with such obeisance, viewers might ask, really be the sort who should be on trial at the Hague? – why, it’s absurd! The corpo-hacks at Channel 4 News have been sucking Blair’s cock for so long they wear knee pads whenever he’s due in the studio. Ben de Pear, the editor, has a special pair with his initials embossed in gold ‘cos he’s in charge, and a red mark on his chin where Blair’s balls have slapped against it so often.

This is how high the stakes are when it comes to keeping a faithful record of our history, both recent and past, and why Rob Newman’s shows should be shown in every school and college. If they were, we might just have an informed citizenry capable of seeing through the government lies we’re expected to swallow without question, and then the unspeakable suffering unleashed by wars of aggression – declared at Nuremberg to be the ‘supreme international crime’ – would never be allowed to happen.

You see, people die when we wage aggressive and illegal war. Real people! Like you. Not ‘Unpeople’, but men, women and children with hopes and dreams and bonds and communities. We know the corporate media is incapable of being truthful about our own government’s and its allies’ crimes so it’s up to all of us who know to do so in whatever way our resources and talents allow. And who is better placed to speak the truth in this society than a comedian, as the greats mentioned have shown us? Alone on stage with a mic, who is going to stop him or her from saying what is routinely suppressed elsewhere? Only the individual’s own desire for mass approval can possibly prevent it. When the desire to speak truth is greater than the need of the ego for universal acclaim, then the comedian is free.

Bill Hicks rightly said that stand-up comedy ‘is the last bastion of free speech.’  He went on:

‘You get to see onstage at a comedy club a guy calling a spade a spade. Not any network censorship; and this is when it’s good. I’m not saying it’s all like that by any stretch of the imagination – you get your share of hacks of course in any booming business, you’re gonna get the leeches and boot-lickers, y’know. But for me it’s something you go to see where you can’t see anywhere else. Not even when you see a comic on television can you really see him do his stuff…now if you come into a club you can see a guy no holds barred….It occurred to me finally that the world is very screwed up and people need comedians to set it right….I heard a good description of humour: it reframes reality in a positive light. So I think comics are really kinds of doorways to a different understanding of a very mixed up and very depressing world. (You can see this interview with Bill here).

The totally fearless and uncompromising Lenny Bruce said, ‘the world is sick and I’m the doctor. I’m a surgeon with a scalpel for false values.’

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Comedians, as Hicks once said of himself, can be preachers (in the best sense) – he certainly was; but with their traveling lifestyle I think of them also as those poets of antiquity who moved from campfire to campfire telling stories, expressing ideas and strengthening communal bonds, especially if we define ‘poet’ as Shelley did,  those who ‘are not only the authors of language, music, dance, architecture, statuary and painting, but are…the founders of civil society, the inventors of the arts of life, and the teachers.’ A comedian of calibre today could well say at the start of a show, like Vyasa, at the beginning of the Mahabharata: ‘if you listen carefully, at the end you’ll be someone else’.

That is the power a comedian with a conscience and a fire in their belly has. Our news media cannot do this work and thanks to it and the distorted chronicles our education establishments cling to, the majority of the population is kept in a perpetual state of cultural early stage Alzheimers whereby people are quite high functioning as far as basic tasks go but can’t remember what the fuck their own government did yesterday – if it didn’t directly affect them. These tabula rasa subjects, rather than being sovereign thinking citizens, have their very perception hijacked by a ceaseless bombardment of celebrity bullshit and state/corporate propaganda.

What better way to keep all critical faculties, which might otherwise begin to flicker and activate, switched off than by a constant stream of mind-numbing reality freak shows, benefit porn ‘documentaries’ to remind us all it’s actually the poor who are to blame for all our ills rather than the thieving elites running this kleptocracy, and news media side-shows engaging in a circumscribed discourse so narrow you couldn’t slip a hairpin between the opposing opinions on fundamentals because they all agree on one thing – we are the good guys. (See the book ‘Why Are We the Good Guys?’ by Media Lens’ David Cromwell).

Who’s going to say we’re not? Frankie Boyle can host Have I Got News For You if he doesn’t mention anything ‘controversial’. Hell, you can even get on the UK’s premier, ‘hard-hitting’ satirical political show if you’re Alistair fucking Campbell! Yes, an architect of an illegal war with the blood of a million innocent people on his hands can sit alongside some ‘edgy’ comics who might poke fun at him a bit. Ooh, dangerous! I couldn’t come within three feet of that demonic horror without putting my hands around his scrawny throat. Yet this is where our ‘successful’ comedians end up, posing as iconoclastic alongside thieves and murderers.

This is why we wanted to interview Rob Newman – I was going to say ‘in a nutshell’ but that would be a nut the size of Ben Nevis the way I’ve banged on. He’s like a postmodern minstrel (he even has a ukulele which is a bit like a lute) wandering from town to town sharing his thoughts, stories and insights; sparking deep thought in his audiences and managing to be both profound and playful – the man’s a fucking genius!


We might be angry here at BSNews – about avoidable and deliberate cruelty and suffering – but we love playful! We’re little ludic leprechauns dancing about with tickling sticks, the hidden bayonet lurking inside the feathers designed for specific and deserved targets only. We’re not cynical about life itself with all its glorious possibilities, wild adventures and deep mysteries, and we are one thing especially – hopeful. Why else would we be activists if we didn’t believe change is possible? If you don’t believe change is possible I suggest you urgently read Hope in the Dark: The Untold History of People Power by Rebecca Solnit who ‘makes a radical case for hope as a commitment to act in a world whose future remains uncertain and unknowable. Drawing on her decades of activism and a wide reading of environmental, cultural, and political history, Solnit argues that radicals have a long, neglected history of transformative victories, that the positive consequences of our acts are not always immediately seen, directly knowable, or even measurable, and that pessimism and despair rest on an unwarranted confidence about what is going to happen next.’

Rob Newman stated in a Guardian interview that he doesn’t consider himself an activist, but his defining terms are too narrow which is why we beg to differ. What are his shows if not a potent form of activism? Being an activist is something you are, not something you sometimes do out on the streets, but it is also something you can become – and that journey is one of the most profound of all. It’s destination? A place where you can’t keep silent or your soul will shrivel and die. Being an activist is in the way you see the world and the way you interact with everyone, all the time, based on that perspective. For Rebecca Solnit, activism ‘is not a journey to the corner store; it is a plunge into the dark.’ and history ‘is like weather, not like checkers. A game of checkers ends. The weather never does.’ She then gives us a moving example of how we can never know what ripples our leaps into the darkness can create:

It’s always too soon to go home. And it’s always too soon to calculate effect. I once read an anecdote by someone in Women Strike for Peace, the first great antinuclear movement in the United States in 1963, the one that did contribute to a major victory: the end of above ground nuclear testing with its radioactive fallout that was showing up in mother’s milk and baby teeth. She told of how foolish and futile she felt standing in the rain one morning protesting at the Kennedy White House. Years later she heard Dr. Benjamin Spock — one of the most high-profile activists on the issue then — say that the turning point for him was seeing a small group of women standing in the rain, protesting at the White House. If they were so passionately committed, he thought, he should give the issue more consideration himself.

In the same Guardian interview in which he denied activist status Rob Newman was asked about his latest offerings, The New Theory of Evolution and The Brian Show, and specifically, if he was ‘taking on’ popular scientific theories? He replied:  ‘in pop science there are a lot of people who see what they want to see – that inequality is natural, women are better suited to servile jobs, people are fundamentally nasty. Some of it is troublingly racist, too.’

More evidence, I would submit, of a persistent activist mindset because Rob cannot abstract his scientific enquiry from the framework of social justice. He might disagree with me (see the interview) but I think it’s a perspective comparable to that of physicist David Bohm who, when explaining his theory of reality as one which describes ‘an unbroken whole’ commented that as deep as that question is, he was interested in the effect the fragmented way most people think has on society, because ‘the widespread and pervasive distinctions between people – race, nation, family, profession, etc – which are now preventing mankind from working together for the common good’ have their origin in this way of thinking. I’m going to extend his quote because I consider what he says next on humans’ tendency to view themselves as ‘separate’ to be so important:

When man thinks of himself in this way he will inevitably defend the needs of his own ‘Ego’ against those of the others; or, if he identifies with a group of people of the same kind, will defend this group in a similar way…even if he does consider the needs of mankind he tends to regard humanity as separate from nature, and so on. My suggestion is that a proper world view, appropriate for its time, is one of the basic factors that is essential for harmony in the individual and in society as a whole.

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Bohm, who could have spent all his time pondering scientific questions away in a turret somewhere and still been considered one of the greatest physicists ever (when are they gonna mention him on The Big Bang Theory? Feynman is getting all the kudos) simply could not, in a way which wonderfully exemplifies his own theory, separate his work in his mind from its implications for resolving conflict in society, seeing it, quite naturally, as a contribution to ‘the common good’. It’s beautiful. And I maintain it’s an impulse present in all the comedians I’ve mentioned whose talent is directed towards an ideal bigger than themselves; an impulse perfectly expressed by Bill Hicks in a statement he wrote just one week before he died from pancreatic cancer at the ridiculous age of thirty-two:

I was always ‘awake’ I guess you’d say. Some part of me clamouring for new insights and new ways to make the world a better place. All of this came out years down the line, in my multitude of creative interests that are the tools I now bring to the Party. Writing, acting, music, comedy.

Bill then signs off with the unbearably poignant line: ‘I left in love, in laughter, and in truth. And wherever truth, love and laughter abide, I am there in spirit’.


Newman has expressed regret that he and Baddiel didn’t allow Bill to support them on their last tour when he wanted to because, said Rob, if he’d gone on first, ‘there wouldn’t be any stage left for me to play on.’ which is endearingly honest. And then he missed meeting his ‘favourite comic’ several times after that. Don’t worry Rob, Stewart Lee actually wandered away to the bar the first time he saw Hicks onstage because he thought he was a ‘Denis Leary clone’ when he heard Bill’s shtick on smoking – imagine how stupid he feels! The impatient twat.

Bill, Rob, and their fellow comedic insubordinates, have – the whole time I’ve been writing – summoned to my mind something Thoreau said in his seminal essay, Civil Disobedience – the one which so influenced Gandhi and Dr. King. For me, it encapsulates their willingness to search for answers beyond the amoral banalities, specious justifications and downright lies spewed out by representatives of every ‘respectable’ establishment institution and to share their inspirational quest with the rest of us:

They who know of no purer sources of truth, who have traced up its stream no higher, stand, and wisely stand, by the Bible and the Constitution, and drink at it there with reverence and humility; but they who behold where it comes trickling into this lake or that pool, gird up their loins once more, and continue their pilgrimage toward its fountain-head.

And so to the interview with Rob Newman – at last! It was by email with submitted questions and didn’t go quite as we’d hoped, but that’s only because we were so goddamned happy to be picking the brain of someone we’d admired so much for so long that we were hoping for responses as expansive, perhaps, as Rob gave here and in the Guardian piece cited. But that wasn’t to be and they were much shorter than we’d expected, which was a bit like crawling through the desert dying of thirst and having a few drops of water dribbled onto our cracked, lolling tongues. Because we wanted to drink a little more from the fountain that is Rob Newman’s remarkable mind. Still, we were so grateful he’d agreed to an interview at all that we found ourselves facing a weird dilemma – do we say anything? Will we offend him if we do, or worse, make him angry? Fuck. How did I find myself in the position of possibly pissing off one of my heroes? And I don’t throw that word around lightly.

It was decided the interview needed some sort of comment by us on the brevity of the answers and that Rob should know about this beforehand so that he wouldn’t feel wrong-footed, so I braced myself and sent an email expressing our disappointment (god, I cringed) and trying to make clear that, unlike some interviewers who decide against their subject before they even start, we had no such agenda and wanted only to be honest about wishing his answers could have been a bit longer. Whatever kind of response I was expecting it wasn’t that Newman would sound a bit hurt and indignant. Shit. I had no emotional template for this scenario. I don’t care what many people think of me but when it comes to those with obvious integrity who have also inspired me – shoot me, I care. But it was too late. I’d fucked it up, come across in the wrong way, sounded ungrateful? God only knows. Soon, I have to send some questions to John Pilger, and I can safely say that if I piss him off,  I’ll have to kill myself….

A few questions for Rob Newman:

AB: Firstly, on the corporate media. Do you feel that the ‘liberal’ corporate media (as they are perceived) such as Channel 4 News, encourage their readers/viewers, who might hold anti-war sentiments, to support wars presented by these outlets as ‘humanitarian interventions’? Eg: Syria, Libya, Iraq?

RN: The idea from the news is that a reasoned grown-up approach will include force and violence, that it is somehow un-statesmanlike not to bomb. Diplomacy is less exciting than carnage, and may entail dip in circulation.

AB: You have said that you were asked to appear on Question Time but didn’t because you would have sounded, basically, crazy in that arena where the discourse doesn’t allow for a genuine debate that includes questioning certain fundamentals such as ‘we are the good guys whatever ‘mistakes’ we might make.’ Do you think it’s ever a good idea for genuine radicals who have access to the corp media to appear on it?

RN: It can be.

AB: Related to the last question, I can’t seem to avoid mentioning Russell Brand because of the impact he’s had since ‘coming out’ as a political dissident. His treatment by the corp media has been brutal. Why do you think this is? And do you think he has had any positive impact?

RN: He is very brave and has done great and vital work in drawing attention to issues that would never have got any coverage otherwise, and this has led to real victories as with the New Era housing estate.

AB; Chris Hedges (Pulitzer Prize-winning ex-New York Times war reporter who resigned after speaking out on the Iraq invasion) writes of his profession: ‘.the creed of objectivity becomes a convenient and profitable vehicle to avoid confronting unpleasant truths or angering a power structure on which news organizations depend for access and profits.’ Do you agree, and if so, what effect does this ‘objectivity’ have on ‘mainstream’ news consumers?

RN: (no response)

AB: Hedges writes of empathy being banished from the newsroom. Do you think that empathy should be encouraged in journalism rather than seen as an impediment to what a ‘good’ journalist should be?

RN: There are now and have always been many excellent journalists in the mainstream media, and their writing is inspired by imaginatively associating with people’s experiences, people who are caught up in events.

AB: Bill Hicks said that our reality is one in which ‘the ego-driven cleverness of the mind is praised, rather than the intelligence of the heart’. How do you interpret this – what does ‘the intelligence of the heart’ mean to you?

RN: Bertrand Russell says Rousseau leads to Hitler and Locke leads to FDR. Gievn a choice between the two, I’ll stick with the cleverness of the mind thank you very much.

AB: And this brings me to your article in The Psychologist: ‘Can Robots Be Ethical?’ In the article you refute an assertion by scientists who have come up with a logic programme for robots which allows them to make choices concerning any harm which results from their decision making, the assertion being that human beings use logic to make our ethical choices. You say:

‘But this can scarcely be true….for good or ill, ethical choices often fly in the face of logic. They may come from emotion, natural cussedness, vague inkling, gut instinct, or even imagination. For instance, I am marching through North Carolina with the Union Army, utterly logically convinced that only military victory over the Confederacy will abolish the hateful institution of slavery. But when I see the face of the enemy – a scrawny, shoeless seventeen-year-old – I throw away my gun and run sobbing from the battlefield. This is an ethical decision, resulting in decisive action: only it isn’t made in cold blood, and it goes against the logic of my position.

Why do you think these scientists are so desperate to prove that ethics can be simplified to an algorithm and why do so many tend to disparage emotion – and empathy in particular – as weakness that has no place in scientific enquiry?

RN: This is an active debate among the scientific community with prominent computer scientists calling for the outlaw of autonomous drones, the strongest refutation of AI fantasies has come in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists by Edward Geist.

AB: ‘His wisdom did his happiness destroy/Aiming to know that world he should enjoy.’ From a Satire Against Reason and Mankind (Rochester). As someone known for your erudition and seemingly endless curiosity about life, the universe and everything, do you think you’ve struck a good balance between intellectual enquiry and experiencing the world sensually and joyfully? And do you think having a young child helps you with the latter?

RN: I just don’t see intellectual enquiry in any way opposed to joy or life.

AB: You’re very critical of Richard Dawkins and his Selfish Gene thesis, arguing that cooperation has been a vital evolutionary influence that’s been sidelined, and that Darwin has been distorted to promote a ‘narrow individualist philosophy’. What kind of effects do you think this has had on our society?

RN: Bad ones.

AB: Do you think the ‘dog-eat’dog’ view is used to justify a lot of selfish human behaviour that’s actually a choice? We have literal psychopaths running corporations, governments and institutions, but as most people aren’t psychopathic isn’t it in the elites’ interests to denigrate community and fellow-feeling and hold up so-called scientific evidence that selfishness is hard-wired into us?

RN: Something like that, yes.

AB: David Bohm, the theoretical physicist, talks about whether man is competitive or cooperative in this vid – specifically at 2.20mins: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mDKB7GcHNac In his book Wholeness and the Implicate Order he makes clear that his theory of consciousness is related to the widespread problems we see in the world in that a fragmented mode of thought leads to fragmentation in society and therefore conflict on every level, from personal, to wars between nations and the ‘war’ between man and nature. Do you think Bohm is on the right track here? Do we need to actively examine the fundamental notions we have about human consciousness in order to bring about an upheaval in the social structure for the common good?

RN: Oh, this sounds interesting. I will investigate when I have a chance. Thank you for bringing him to my attention

AB: Bohm clearly saw his work as part of a wider, meaningful effort to reduce conflict and contribute to a more peaceful world of cooperation and community. Do you see your work in the same way? Is that what you’re trying to do with your shows and books?

RN: No, I see them as self-defence against the gross slander of pseudo-scientific accounts of ‘human nature’.

AB: You have said, ‘there is no meaningful response to climate change without massive social change. Everything else is just decadent. it’s just trivial.  And because not enough attention is given to the social justice implications of climate change, because climate change falls hardest and heaviest on the poor, it magnifies all existing inequalities of power.’ It’s refreshing to hear the issue put into this context. How can we bring about the massive change that’s required when it’s clear govts and corporations only pay lip-service?  As individuals and as activist groups, how can we, in this consumerist nightmare of a society, bring the majority with us?

RN: I think the chief thing is to control the petro-chemical and energy companies. The UN or EU or whoever needs to get a few thousand business people to stop taking oil and coal out of the ground. That seems do-able.

AB: Doesn’t the issue of climate change demonstrate clearly the failure of democratic process as it currently exists? Indeed, does it not expose ‘democracy’ as we have it as a sham, therefore making direct action and the creation of direct democracy an imperative in this historical moment?

RN: (no response)

AB: Why do you think so many climate action groups are reluctant to address the role of animal agriculture in climate change?

RN: (no response).

AB: Following on, have you seen Cowspiracy? And if so, any thoughts?

RN: No.

AB: The Brain Show is what you’re touring with now. Why does this subject fascinate you so much? Have you come to any conclusions about it all? Or is the research the end in itself?

RN: Good science knows a little and that provisionally. Bad science knows everything. Brain science bestsellers know everything, of course.

AB: You’ve experienced ‘crazy, sexy fame’ – do you relate at all to people who crave that level of adulation? Did you ever crave it yourself? Did you enjoy it, even for a while?

RN: Sure.

AB: You were feted for your looks back then. Is it the case that beautiful men find aging more difficult? How do you feel about hitting 50?

Luckily it’s still twenty years away

AB: Lastly Rob, I notice your tour date guide says you’re playing The Soho Theatre in London 11th – 23rd January (not the 17th). The 17th of January is my birthday – have you planned a surprise party for me and that’s why you can’t do the show?

RN: I shall be laying down panting like an old pub dog.

Tickets are now on sale for The Brain Show at the Edinburgh Festival, Summerhall, Edinburgh, August 5th – 28th, 7.15pm in the Main Hall.

5th and 6th July Jacksons Lane, London.

16th July Balham Comedy Festival, London.

Rob’s new Radio 4 series Brainwreck, will air in April 2017, preceded by a re-run of The Entirely Accurate Encyclopedia of Evolution!

Listen to Rob being interviewed about The Brain Show by Kerri Smith on the science journal Nature’s podcast.

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