If I thought lockdown was hard, then this last year has been an absolute pile of shit. I drove around the UK in a Kia Sportage in an attempt to get away from everything. Did it work? Did it fuck.

My new show Howl isn’t about mental health; this show is mental health. In all it’s rage, joy, tears, anxiety and humour.

Isn’t that what comedy is? There’s even a bit where I’m pretty scathing of the disingenuous platitudes of the modern wellness industry. 

But how did I get to this point? Let me talk you through it…

Minehead 2005

I’d just done an unpaid ten-minute spot in a big pub in Minehead, about two hours’ drive from home and the landlord slipped me £20. I could not believe it. I had no idea that this could be a way of making money.

People who work in the creative arts have been conditioned to feel ashamed about getting paid, the assumption that you should provide your skill for free or in exchange for ‘exposure’ is still really pervasive. So the first time I received cold hard cash was an important moment. 

Ashton Court Festival 2005

This was my first, and to date, most catastrophic on-stage death. It still makes me cringe. It was the second show at a festival in Bristol that I’d been to every year as a teenager, a real rite of passage. I’d done well the day before and walked on stage just expecting to rip it. So much so that I’d gathered everyone I knew to come and watch my triumphant second set.

And I bombed SO HARD. It was a real lesson in leaving your ego at the door and never assuming a gig will go well. To this day I really embrace nerves because they tell me I’m in the right headspace.

Speakeasy – Edinburgh 2015

I’d just finished a show after finding out I hadn’t been nominated for The Edinburgh Comedy Award for the seventh year in a row. In previous years this had always got to me, but for some reason walking back from the gig I just experienced this mad ego-death epiphany.

I’d started to feel audiences kind of knew who I was a bit, that they were onside, and I walked through Edinburgh in August, an experience absolutely unparalleled anywhere else on earth.

I heard the drummers, saw student sketch groups walking in their make-up, people juggling, performers going to and from their shows, and felt this enormous sense of a creative community who had brought things into being that didn’t exist four weeks ago.

And I felt this collective sense of pride, and a realisation that you can’t ‘win’ at being creative, you’re just part of a really honourable process that never ends.

A Robins Amongst The Pigeons Live, The Phoenix, 2015

This was the first time Elis and I ever performed on stage at the same time. We’d put in a couple of dates at a nice room under a pub in London for listeners to come and see me read extracts from a book A Robins Amongst The Pigeons that I’d written for the Radio X show.

I’ll never forget the reaction when we came onstage, everyone was so up for it. In that moment we both realised we’d built up a passionate following without really knowing it, and providing for that following has been the number-one priority ever since. 

The Darkness Of Robins, London Apollo, 2018

After winning the comedy award in Edinburgh, I embarked on a tour of the show The Darkness Of Robins. I hadn’t really expected the show to get the publicity it did, and it was the first live tour I’d done with a proper established audience.

In some ways this made it quite brutal as it was extended to over 60 dates, and I was driving myself everywhere and had no tour manager or support act. I’d done four or so nights in London but we took the risk of adding The Apollo and managed to sell it out, which was such a big moment for me.

There was a moment in the show where I would sit down on stage, and it required pin drop silence, to have the audience totally engaged. And I remember getting to it and thinking ‘They're with you! This is going to work!’. And in a room that size to feel I’d brought the audience with me in quite an intimate show was something I’ll never forget. 

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John Robins is on tour with Howl from 15 Sept. Buy tickets at johnrobins.com or ticketmaster.co.uk