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John Robins
© Idil Sukan Draw HQ John Robins

Five reasons to see John Robins

West Country storyteller and XFM DJ John Robins has been a circuit favourite for a decade, and he’s finally getting the recognition he deserves. Before he hits the big time, here are five things you need to know

By Ben Williams

He’s found his audience

After eight years living in Bristol, where he was a favourite on the West Country circuit, John Robins made the move to the Big Smoke a few years ago. ‘I realised that the industry’s top kingmakers will never go to a gig in Chipping Sodbury,’ he explains. ‘I love Bristol with all my heart, and miss it every sweaty-tubed, mean-spirited, siren-deafening London day. But it was getting me down doing the same old gigs to earn a living and getting none of the sweet, sweet London action.’

After settling in the capital, the 32-year-old comic landed a breakthrough gig, hosting his own XFM radio show with fellow stand-up Elis James. ‘I absolutely adore Elis,’ says Robins. ‘I have loved chatting to him since I first met him ten years ago. I used to pull over in petrol stations and talk to him on the phone for an hour. It was the highlight of my week, and still is.’

He’s lived funny

Back in Bristol, Robins’s living situation was a sitcom waiting to happen – he shared a flat with Russell Howard and Jon Richardson. What wisdom did he pick up from his future superstar flatmates? ‘Richardson: hygiene and slow roasts. Howard: swagger and bench-pressing,’ he claims. ‘Living with them taught me to always “be on”, which is infuriating for some people to be around, but when you’re all sat there, exchanging top-level banter, with rolling jokes and callbacks – man, I felt so alive!’

More crucially, though, what did Howard and Richardson learn from him? ‘They learned what it’s like to live with a man so desperate for attention that he will perform skits, semi-naked, in the living room, to strangers.’

He’s officially the funniest banter merchant in the country

Earlier this month, at the 2015 Chortle Awards, Robins bagged the gong for Best Compère for his audience riffing skills. ‘I wouldn’t be the comedian I am without that skillset,’ he admits. ‘A lot of my favourite comics are also fantastic compères.’ But he’s cutting down on his hosting work to focus on his tightly written material: ‘So catch the riff-daddy while you can,’ he says.

He’s not worried about looking cool

As a child, Robins was obsessed with the band Queen. He still is, in fact. ‘The only kid who got more stick at school was in the year below, and he was into Cliff Richard,’ he says. ‘I’m always showing off, but I think what’s “cool” is liking what you like regardless of what other people think. The best comedians are an equal mix of massive ego and crushingly low self-esteem – that’s where the magic happens, in the fight between those two forces.’

He has a busy 12 months ahead

As well as the XFM show, Robins gigs across the country, is prepping for his seventh Edinburgh Fringe show and has already clocked up a few TV appearances. What else does he have planned for 2015? ‘Oh, lots of top-level, world-dominating gala shows. Or maybe just another 1,000 attempts to get on “Never Mind the Buzzcocks” – we just don’t know! But at the moment, I’ve just got a new iPhone game called “Alto’s Adventure”. It’s absolutely incredible, but I need a “100m proximity wingsuit fly” to unlock the next character. It’s killing me. So that’s my focus right now.’


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