What was the inspiration for this performance?
That answer comes in three parts.
First has to do with form. I was given the opportunity by the NTS to experiment with a form that I found interesting and given that I'd often been referred to as a stand-up even though I'd never done it in my puff, so I wanted to explore the world of it through a theatrical lens and discover where, if anywhere, the differences lay.
Secondly, was societal. I wanted to ask questions of how humour functions in society- as defence mechanism, as power tactic, as deflection, to suppress the voices of others to raise our own status, to make others feel good, to analyse, to reflect.
Thirdly was story: I wanted to put all of this thought and research into a tight story about someone we can connect with and feel great empathy for, so I wanted to find a terrible comic and put that on stage in the space.
How did you become interested in making performance?
It's hard to pin point the moment to something specifically, I never went to amateur dramatics or drama clubs as a boy. A lot of it has more to do, I think, with the big performers that I grew watching- Michael Stipe, Rik Mayall, Bjork etc.
And, while I don't make the kind of things that they make, they gave me the inspiration to find what I want to say to the world and to try and find the right format to do so. Also, I had a great drama teacher, who really encouraged me to think of myself as a maker which was invaluable.
Was your process typical of the way that you make a performance?
Yes. I do a lot of research and through myself into the world of the subject in hand. I visited comedy clubs over the world where I saw hundreds of acts, read all the books, interviewed scores of comics and even got up and tried it myself to really know what it's like.
Then when I've done the research it's all about finding a way to connect it to an audience and that's when the hard writing, the collaboration and test audiences starts.
With this show, I was lucky enough to work with my most frequent
collaborator- Gareth Nicholls from really early on in the development which meant that the experience was given as much consideration from the off as the words.
What do you hope that the audience will experience?
I hope that they will have an immersive experience, that it will feel like they are at a comedy club, but over the hour, it will start to shift and they will find themselves engaged in the narrative, more concerned with asking questions of the form than looking for a light laugh.
We've performed the show more than 50 times since we opened at the Arches in 2013 and they seem to be having experiences very similar to that which is very encouraging. We're constantly being told things like "I've never been to the theatre before but I loved that" which delights me because I always want to make very accessible work that can speak to people who have no experience of the theatre.
What strategies did you consider towards shaping this audience experience?
While we wanted, of course, to get the audience to a place where they will ask questions of what they've just seen and of the world around them, we had to first lure them in by making the space feel as safe and familiar as possible- to make them feel like they are at a comedy club, about to see a comedy act, where they could bring a pint, they can shout out, enjoy cringing at the failures of the act and relax in for a good night but then we get to slowly degrade that familiarity and trust to open them up to something bigger.
We got some great advice from people like Greg Hemphill on how to push both the authenticity of the club experience and the undercutting of it which proved really important in the show.
Do you see your work within any particular tradition?
Chaucer, Hemmingway, McGonnagle? I don't know really, I just enjoy making the work. I've certainly taken experience from plenty of wide ranging influences and been hugely advanced in my making by all the people I've had the pleasure of working with over the years but I've never really identified as a particular tradition or form. I guess, perhaps, because I'm open to creating work in any number of forms depending on the idea and the best way to communicate the idea.
So, in that respect... David Byrne. Aye, I know, I've no modesty.
Donald Robertson Is Not A Stand-up Comedian
will be continue its UK tour
with dates around Scotland this Spring.
A Gambler's Guide To Dying
Will be in Charleston, South Carolina
from June 9th- 15th
And will tour the UK in Autumn.