Rob Deering is a stand-up comedian who uses a guitar, a loop pedal and his voice to make audiences laugh all around the world. Known as an in-demand headliner on the UK comedy circuit, Rob Deering is regularly touring nationally, as well as performing solo shows at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. His late-night, live-music comedy pop quiz Beat This is a festival institution, on London’s South Bank, at Wales’ Green Man and much more besides Edinburgh. Rob Deering has appeared on numerous Radio and TV shows, often using his extensive knowledge of film, popular music and more; he has won Celebrity Mastermind and a comedians’ special of the Weakest Link on BBC One, for example. Rob Deering also recently ran all over Britain for BBC 6 Music; as well as presenting the podcast Running Commentary with fellow running comic Paul Tonkinson, and fundraising for his favoured charity Parkinson’s UK; he has run seven marathons. He produces and hosts Parkinson’s UK’s annual gig Shake With Laughter at London’s Comedy Store, where he is also a regular member of the Cutting Edge topical comedy team. Please enjoy my interview with Rob Deering…
When someone asks you ‘what do you do for a living?’ – How do you respond?
Autobiography by Morrissey, but if I get to the end I’ll be very surprised; his effortful attempts at Joycean stream-of-consciousness lyricism, his narcissism, and the exaggerated, gothic misery of the Manchester he creates aren’t working for me. Just finished Set The Boy Free by Johnny Marr, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
What’s your earliest memory of reading?
The first ‘chapter book’ I finished outside school was Gobbolino the Witch’s Cat by Ursula Moray Williams – sitting in the back of my Mum’s light blue Austin 1100 on a sunny day, parked over the Western Avenue from the Hoover Building, waiting for my Nan, who worked there, to come out. I’d have been four or five. That’s a pretty clear memory!
If you could encourage young people to read one book in particular, what would it be?
The Moomin books by Tove Jansson. Fantastical and fun, but deeply philosophical too, they really reward reading and re-reading. I liked them long before you could buy all the Moomin memorabilia you can get these days. But now I’ve got a whole bunch of mugs, so it’s all good.
When did you fall in love with making people laugh?
I remember miming along to a saxophone solo to entertain a room full of people when I was about six. I probably thought it was cool rather than funny, but they laughed and loved it, which works for me. Nothing much has changed since then – except these days it’s a guitar and I’m not miming.
What is the worst job you’ve ever had?
I once had to ride rollercoasters – which I’m not into anyway – over and over again for two days straight, interviewing people for a TV show. So much puking.
What two pieces of advice would you give a young aspiring comedian?
1) See yourself from the audience’s point of view at the beginning – say hello, or make contact in some way, before going into your stuff – and doing a joke about what you look like is not cheap, it shows you know where they’re at.
2) Do gigs! Everything you write and plan will change fundamentally when you perform it, so don’t wait to get it out there – and don’t put it all on one gig, book yourself in for a bunch.
Who would you say your three biggest comedic influences
I didn’t really get into comedy as a fan of comedians, but a few acts set me along the road; the way Omid Djalili incorporated his drama background into his stand-up act really appealed to me as a stage-loving audience member… my friend, excellent Scottish comic Joe Heenan got me my first gig… and early in my career I supported Lee Mack a few times – the way every one of his jokes turns on a surprise was an inspiration to me and changed my act palpably.
Do you read as much as you’d like to?
I read books voraciously, so I won’t start one unless I’ve got the time to finish it – as a busy man and a father I don’t read as much as I used to – but that’s not the same as not reading as much as I’d like to,
Frank Skinner Autobiography by Frank Skinner and How I Escaped My Certain Fate by Stewart Lee really spoke to me, but Born Standing Up by Steve Martin is so clear-eyed and economical – that’s the only one that would qualify as required reading.
Is there a book that you’ve read more than once? What is it and why did you revisit it?
Always! If there’s a book I love that I haven’t read more than once, that’s when I’d wonder why. Revisiting the worlds of beloved novels, and series of novels, is the same as going to a beloved holiday destination – why wouldn’t you go back? You always find something different when you do – along with all those things you already love. I hope I’ll visit Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, for example, once or twice a decade til I die.
What book have you recommended the most to friends and family?
If you weren’t in comedy what do you think you’d be doing?
Playing in a serious band. But interrupting all the songs to make jokes.
What’s your favourite genre of book?
I like genre for genre’s sake – to see the form crystallise with repetition, whether horror, romance or whatever. I love old, pre-TV short stories – MR James, Arthur Conan Doyle, Cornell Woolrich – for this kind of formality. All the stories are the same – in a good way.
What do you think a world without books would be like?
I think contemporary society’s bullish, binary superficiality is a lot like it already.
Is there an author whose writing you’re such a fan of, that you’ll read everything they release?
Every July I miss those years when new Harry Potter books arrived! ‘Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive’. I used to read everything, Iain Banks – with or without the ‘M’ – released, although in retrospect he was so prolific some were bound to be better than others. I’ll read any Jane Austen, but I don’t think she’s got anything new coming out anytime soon…
Do you think digital books will ever completely replace real books?
I shouldn’t think so – TV didn’t replace radio, film didn’t replace theatre, rock bands didn’t replace orchestras – but I’m quite the Luddite, so I would say that.
What book do you feel humanity needs most right now?
From childhood, Moominpappa at Sea by Tove Jansson, from my teens Mansfield Park by Jane Austen, and in recent years, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami and One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson.
Are there any books you haven’t mentioned that you feel would make your reading list?
New York Trilogy by Paul Auster hasn’t come up, and that’s pretty special. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon too.
What books or subject matter do you plan on reading in the next year?
In the time when I could be reading I intend to be writing! Once I’ve got these two screenplays done, maybe I’ll reread all the aforementioned again.
If you were to write an autobiography – what would it be called?
Rob Deering: Episode IV – A New Hope.
Image credit: Ed Moore.