The trouble with cults is that you don’t know you’re in one until it’s too late. They lure you in with free pens and snacks and before you know it you’re making plans to go live in the desert and wearing a special hat on Wednesdays. The followers of John Robertson haven’t quite signed their bank accounts over to the forceful comedian, but there’s a good few T-shirts in the audience sporting his face and, slightly worryingly if you haven’t seen his cult (there’s that word again) Fringe show The Dark Room, YA DIE, YA DIE , YA DIE! in large letters.
Robertson’s out-there performance style is caught up with its in-jokes; fans referred to as ‘Darrens’, 90s videogame references and having your drink stolen by him reframed as an honour – some sort of tribute to the terrifying goblin king. This all makes writing a review of his latest stand up, Sexy, Sweaty, Party Party, from any objective viewpoint nigh-on impossible. So fuck it, I’m not going to even try. Introducing Exeunt Darren and his nerd-acious, fan-eye view of probably the most chaotic, meaningless hedonistic evening you can have on the Fringe since they got all health and safety on the moshing at Opium.
Robertson creates the impression of having no respect for any traditional audience-artist boundaries. Beginning his routine from the back of the overwarm, dank basement, he climbs over those watching to get to the stage, pausing only to insult them. Occupying the middle of a Venn diagram between Camden goths, Tumblr and a night out at torture garden, Robertson delivers less of a show than a series of seemingly unconnected, bizarre events. Underscored by stoic Paladin-like [it’s a Dungeons and Dragons reference, you should have realised what type of review this was going be a while back] Mike ‘Dr Blue’ on guitar, harmonica and everything in-between, he sets some of them to music. It’s fun for all the family [it’s not, it’s really not – please do not bring minors to John Robertson’s stand up, send them to The Dark Room (For Kids!) instead and even then don’t blame me for the consequences] as we learn the dance routine to ‘Murphy the right wing furry’.
This is stand-up comedy in a very loose sense, the experience more like watching Rik Mayall cover Nick Cave’s Murder Ballads whilst you and he are both taking mescaline. There is no question that Robertson is a brilliant improviser but what you have here is cleverer than that – it’s an illusion of unplanned pandemonium. He can make you laugh at the downright offensive and push the boundaries of your sensibilities because he’s created a space in which those things are allowed. He might be inviting you onstage to partake in a little mutual flogging but it’s all very consensual. This is never clearer than in the way Robertson picks a victim from the crowd and then twists the situation, turning his prey into the hero and having him crowd surfed to the bar. It’s a rare performer that can elicit such slavish devotion usually reserved for New Age prophets proclaiming the apocalypse and Star Wars.
At least, I hope it’s all a careful construct and personae, otherwise surely Robertson is banned from Tesco. You can’t trust this man around any food stuff that could also be a projectile. A very naive friend of mine once accidentally went to a sploshing party expecting an innocent food fight. You would have thought the fact it was held in a recreational dungeon would have given the game away. Anyhow, the point is said friend, despite initial horror at all the nakedness and eclairs, enjoyed himself thoroughly. And much like that odd, erotic fairy-tale, you will probably leave a John Robertson show elated, signed up to strange cultish corner of the internet, mildly sexually confused and quite possibly covered in beans.
John Robertson: Sexy, Sweaty, Party, Party is on until 26 August 2018 at Just the Tonic at The Tron. Click here for more details.