THIS IS a part of the country with fond memories for Rob Newman.
The 39-year-old is returning to Northamptonshire on Wednesday as part of his stand-up comedy tour. But more than 20 years ago he used to come here on holiday, to Billing Aquadrome to be precise.
“I might make a pilgrimage to the site. We had a caravan and we used to go and spend lots of weekends there and they were weekends filled with joy,” he says, sounding pleased to make a positive connection.
“When you are touring you can get very demoralised. You are in a town centre and it is the same as every other town centre you have been to. I might get on a bus and see if the caravan park is open.”
This is not what you expect to hear from someone who has travelled the world to chronicle the destructive influence of global corporations and scheming western Governments.
But then Rob Newman is nothing if not master of the unexpected.
He is famous for being the stand-up comic who rejected fame just as it seemed to be beckoning him towards an easy life of sofa-based TV specials. As half of the comedy duo Newman and Baddiel he capped the start of his career with a sell-out show at Wembley Arena – an unheard of achievement for comedians performing in the stamping ground of rock legends. Newman’s entrance that night was spectacular: swooping down to the stage on a deathslide with his long frock coat trailing in the air behind him.
When cultural commentators asked: is comedy the new rock’n’roll?’ it was that Wembley show they were thinking of.
As an act, he and David Baddiel had taken comedy about as far away from Ronnie Corbett as it could go, but while the audiences begged for more Newman was preparing to turn his back on it all. Baddiel teamed up with Frank Skinner and became a fully-fledged ‘face’ in the showbiz establishment, but Newman was headed in another direction: Writing novels.
His third, The Fountain At The Centre of the World, has just been published by Verso to a warm reception from critics. By all accounts his first two, Manners and Dependance Day were nothing to be ashamed of, but Newman dismisses them as ‘not very good’.
However, it says something about his determination that having failed to impress himself with his writing ability he still went through the three years to produce his latest work.
The BBC2 documentary Scribblings screened in March followed his efforts, from travels to South America for research, mounting debt problems and then the rounds of rejection letters from publishers.
His PR material reveals the book was turned down by seven publishers, but Newman self-deprecatingly qualifies this by adding: “Yeah, seven a day…”
So what drives him on?
“I want people to question the way the world is today, to have the confidence of their doubts.
“We are fed with propaganda that there is nothing wrong with how things are set up and the amount of violence it is all based on – officially sanctioned military violence, but people are pretty clued up anyway.
“The real hope is that people get involved in some way. We toyed with the idea of having speakers from different community groups at the shows just standing up and saying what they were doing.
“It’s not that I want people to give up their cars and start a revolution, I just want people to have the confidence to say, ‘This doesn’t seem right’.
“A lot of people think it but because they don’t hear anyone else saying it they just carry on. The other thing is that if I didn’t say this stuff I would just burst.”
Is he a prophet of doom, waiting for a catastrophe to make the world a better place?
“I hope not, but I think things will get worse before they get better. There is so much wealth that comes off the back of depression and war. The problem with a catastrophe is that things can go either way…”
Newman is certainly no slouch when it comes to finding out about the issues that trouble him, especially the struggles of ordinary people against the machinations of giant corporations. He is a voracious reader and a keen user of the internet with his own website http://www.robertnewmancorp.fsnet.co.uk, but he rejects any accusations that he is a workaholic.
“Actually I feel like I have wasted a lot of time. I do not have a television and I often think about the amount of time I used to spend watching it and then moaning about what I was watching.”
Even so his work rate hasn’t left him much time for a personal life. He is single, but admits bashfully: “I am working on it. There is someone and maybe in a few weeks time things will have developed but it wouldn’t be right to say more than that.”
In the meantime there is the small matter of a UK stand-up comedy tour to deal with. Does he feel more of a comedian or a novelist?
“A bit of both really. Usually when you are doing one thing you cannot imagine doing the other.
“I thought I had done with stand-up, but then I was reading through some history books and I just had this idea. It is a real buzz to do all new stuff. A bit of me would have died if I had just done the same old stuff.”
First published in the Northampton Chronicle & Echo