WHEN I WAS at school, art was my main strength. I did art A level then an art foundation course then a degree in graphic design. Weirdly, it was during that degree that I fell in love with putting words together to create ideas.
For one project we had to come up with an advertising campaign for organ donation. My tagline was ‘Do you have the guts to save a life?’ I got a good grade for it and thought ‘Ah, OK – putting words together is quicker than designing.’
I moved down to London to try to get into advertising, and eventually did. I found the job quite frustrating and found sanctuary in notebooks I kept on the side.
One day, my boss said he was having a fireworks party in his back garden and there were going to be some people reading poetry. I said I'd been writing some stuff in my books, unsure if it was poetry, but could I read it out at his party. He said yes and that was my first ever gig.
MY FIRST GIG
I was so nervous about this gig I couldn't eat the night before or leading up to it: I was actually going to read out some stuff that I thought was funny to an audience of people who didn't know me.
I wish I could say it was an off-the-charts tight ten minutes, but truthfully they liked some of it. Most importantly, though, I felt really encouraged.
The idea that I thought was the funniest, they also thought was the funniest, and that was massive for me.
My sense of humour had done me a solid.
I wanted to test my sense of humour again in a proper room with a microphone instead of standing on a garden wall in the dark.
BANG SAID THE GUN POETRY NIGHT
After that performance, my creative director in advertising and a couple of his poetry mates asked me to join their poetry night. They were just about to restart it in a new venue – the upstairs room of the Roebuck pub. I jumped at the chance.
It was a poetry night, but I made the decision to just use the stage to try to get ideas across, stories, thoughts, poems, anything word based.
This was the first gig where I really felt the thrill of performing. People were laughing because of me and I wanted to do it again and again and again.
David Monteith-Hodge / Photographise
AMUSED MOOSE COMEDY COMPETITION
I started doing as many gigs as I could. One evening at the Poetry Café in Covent Garden, a guy asked me if I’d do his alternative comedy night. I asked if I could do what I'd just done and he said yes. This got me doing actual comedy gigs; the most important one was the Amused Moose competition where I think 70 people did one minute each in one night. It was crazy and intense.
Hils Jago, the creator of it, gave some really good advice at the start: “If the light is in your eyes, you're in the light: don't let the audience see you too much before you get on stage.”
I managed to get through that round, and a few more rounds, then to the final at the Edinburgh Festival. I didn’t win the final but in the audience was the agent I’ve now been with for nine years.
THE RUSSELL HOWARD HOUR
This was the first time I did stand-up on TV. I remember being picked up from outside my flat in an Audi with blacked-out windows. The driver opened the door for me; I could not believe it.
I went into that gig with exactly the same feeling I went into that first gig on my creative director’s garden wall. “Come on Rob, just follow your instincts.”
I was determined to share what I thought was funny to see if anyone else did too. This time, though, the material I was going to be doing had been tried and tested for years. That didn't mean it was definitely going to work on that night.
A D Zyne
CHORLEY LITTLE THEATRE
I’ve now written ten hour-long Edinburgh fringe shows and done yearly tours since 2015. Last year, in Chorley, was probably my most memorable tour show.
I had started making prints of various lines from my shows, a bit of text, a drawing, etc. Last time I was in Chorley in the first half of my set when I was doing some older bits, a guy shouted out “I’VE GOT THAT ON MY WALL!” Then someone else shouted it at a different bit.
It went on and ended up with people saying “I haven’t got that on my wall.” It was a funny night.
Also that night, someone left me a ring doughnut and a sausage in a bag by the microphone. It was there when I got on stage, and, I think, refers to a bit from a previous show about whether a tic tac
can fit through a polo. Crazy.
Tickets for Rob’s new tour are on sale now, available from robauton.co.uk