By James Rampton
Rob Brydon has come to our interview directly from the photo shoot for his new live tour. The comedian deadpans that, “I was looking rather lovely in a suit and freshly pressed shirt. It was a glorious sight to behold. As you know, I’m a very elegant man. I encapsulate a lot of Daniel Craig.” A pause… “Albeit after he’s been savagely beaten.”
This is typical of the marvellous and infectious sense of humour with which Rob has made his name over the last three decades. The tremendous news is that you will be able to witness this first-hand on his new nationwide tour, Songs & Stories, which begins in February 2020.
The twist is that on this tour, as well as his fantastically funny stand-up and dazzling array of impersonations, Rob will be treating audiences to his superb singing, accompanied by very talented eight-piece band. Songs & Stories promises to be a very special night out. You are recommended to book early because tickets are already flying off the shelves.
Rob makes for wonderful company. He is just as entertaining offstage as he is on it. An hour in his company simply flies by. It’s like being treated to a command performance – to a very privileged audience of one.
The 54-year-old is an enormously popular and gifted performer. But it’s not just me who thinks so. He has won gongs at the British Comedy Awards and the Royal Television Society.
The critics have also been lining up to sing his praises. The Sunday Mirror calls Rob, “The funniest man on TV right now,” and Heat describes his eponymous TV programme as, “An absolute treat of a show – five stars.” While The Independent goes for a more succinct judgement: “Priceless.”
Rob first broke through on TV with such excellent and original programmes as Marion and Geoff, Human Remains and The Keith Barret Show. He went on to gain a huge following from such widely adored comedies as Gavin and Stacey, Would I Lie to You? and The Trip.
But for all his success on TV, Rob has been yearning for return to his live roots. He articulates why. “Live comedy is just such a buzz. People come just to see you. Sometimes you’re stand on stage thinking, ‘Good God, these people have all gone to the trouble of paying a babysitter and chosen to come and watch my show.’ That’s a very special feeling.”
The comedian goes on to explain in more depth why he is so drawn to live performing. “It feels very natural to me. Sometimes people say, ‘I can’t imagine getting up on stage and performing. It would be so terrifying.’ But you don’t choose that life – it’s almost a calling, something you just have to do.
“You feel very comfortable on stage, and that grows over time. The more you get used to it, the more it becomes your norm. I like to entertain people and make them laugh. It’s a real privilege. As with a lot of things, you appreciate that more as you get older. You stand there on stage and think, ‘Wow, this is great!’”
At the same time, because he is known primarily as a comedian, Rob is conscious that performing Songs & Stories might be regarded as a risky business. But, he asserts, “It’s a deliberate risk. I have got to the stage of my career where shows I’m in like Would I Lie to You? and The Trip and stand-up tours return.
“But I want to go outside my comfort zone and test myself. I’ll be nervous before this tour thinking, ‘What will the reaction be?’ But I’m taking a chance, and the fact that there is risk involved is part of the thrill of it.”
Since appearing in a school production of Guys and Dolls, Rob has always loved singing. In 2009, alongside Ruth Jones (who starred alongside him in that production of Guys and Dolls), Robin Gibb, and Sir Tom Jones, he reached No.1 in the charts with the single Islands in the Stream, in aid of Comic Relief. He has also performed with such music stars as Neil Diamond, Sophie Ellis-Bextor and Sharleen Spiteri.
For all that, Rob is well aware that some people might still be taken aback by what they perceive as a change of tack with Songs & Stories. “It will take some people by surprise. There are so many media outlets nowadays that some people might only know me from Gavin and Stacey or Would I Lie to You?. Those people often say to me, ‘I didn’t know you could sing,’ and yet I have sung a lot. I hope this show is a very pleasant surprise for audiences.” It certainly will be.
A BAFTA-nominated actor who has also starred in such acclaimed films as A Cock and Bull Story, 24-Hour Party People and Blinded by the Light, Rob continues that, “At the end of the day, I’m there to entertain people. I recently went to see Jeff Goldblum play with his band. That was wonderful. That guy was just there to entertain people. He played his songs, but he did lots of other things as well, like film quizzes. The show followed no rulebook.
“I found that very liberating and quite instructive. It showed me that you don’t have to follow the rules. You can make the show whatever you want it to be. So that’s what I’ve done with Songs & Stories.”
Rob, who trained at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama in Cardiff before moving to a job at BBC Wales, reveals that Songs & Stories will recount his life story through a series of anecdotes and songs by such varied artists as Paul Simon, George and Ira Gershwin, Stephen Sondheim, Rodgers and Hammerstein, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Waits.
The performer, who possesses a beautifully rich singing voice, explains that, “I go back to my childhood. I was sixteen and starting to get interested in girls, but I was always pining from afar. In my teens I lived in Porthcawl, a coastal town in Wales, and all the cool boys were surfers. I wasn’t a surfer. I had a go once, but I hurt my knee.”
In addition, “My musical taste was never considered cool. I never set much store by stuff being fashionable. I loved David Bowie and The Police, but also Shakin’ Stevens and Cliff Richard, which not many boys of my age did. Well, not the ones sitting at the back of the bus!”
Rob identifies another major problem for him during those unhappy teenage years. “I didn’t drink. My friends would all drink on a Friday and Saturday, and on a Tuesday and Wednesday, too, just for good measure. That meant they lost their fear of rejection. Unfortunately, I never lost that fear. I knew that I was funny and could make girls laugh. They would want to spend time with me. Had I had the nerve to close the deal with a kiss, I’m sure they would have responded, but I was too frightened.
“I would see Neanderthals from my class with their arm around a girl at the school disco and think, ‘How did he manage that? He can’t string a sentence together and now it looks as if they’re setting up home together.’ I talk a lot about my bemusement that girls were going out with those boys. At the time, Joe Jackson’s song, Is She Really Going Out with Him? was a big hit, and I sing a bit of that by way of illustration.”
Rob wraps up by expressing what he hopes audiences will take away from Songs & Stories. “I hope people will come out happier than when they went in because they’ve had such a great time. I hope they will have forgotten about the world for two hours.
“As a performer in the last few years, you can really feel that people just want to escape. It’s tangible. People come up to you afterwards and say, ‘I’m so glad you didn’t talk about the state of the country or the current US President.’ My show is an escape. It’s a service. People want to go out and be entertained. In times of adversity, which you could definitely say we are in now, people want that more than ever.”
Never more than a minute away from the next joke, Rob adds with a wry grin: “Of course, if the box office is still open, a percentage of the audience will be looking for a refund, I don’t doubt that. I can only hope that the more forgiving among them will draw a line in the sand and put it behind them!”
As you can see, you are in for a really terrific night of entertainment at Songs & Stories.
Before the show begins its Spring tour, Rob Brydon – Songs & Stories will be performed this December with pianist and musical director Paul Herbert in the intimate surroundings of Crazy Coqs in London (2, 3, 4 & 7 December at 7pm as well as 5, 6 December at 9.15pm).
Information and tickets: www.robbrydon.live | Facebook, Twitter, Instagram: robbrydonlive