My Early Hour: Rob Auton, Poet and Performer

Poet and comedian Rob Auton has performed at Glastonbury Festival, Soho Theatre (last month) – and he won Funniest Joke at Edinburgh Festival in 2013. We talk mornings, criticism, his latest show – The Sleep Show – and ask him to tell us a joke…

The Guardian refer to him as comedy’s Brian Cox, The Independent describe his shows as charming, eccentric and uplifting and we think he’s one of the funniest, most unique solo performers we’ve ever seen. Meet poet, comic, performer, public speaker and artist Rob Auton…

How old are you?
I am old enough to remember watching World Cup Italia 90 very clearly.

What time do you wake up in the morning?
Today I woke up at 8.30am. It depends on what I’ve been doing, I guess.

What wakes you up?  
Normally my alarm on my digital watch.

How do you feel?
How do I feel when I wake up? The minute I wake up I normally figure out if I’ve had a good nights sleep. Sometimes I say “oh God.”

What do you do first thing?
I open my eyes then I look at my bedroom ceiling or the wall depending on what position my head is in when I wake up.

In three words, describe mornings in your home…
Here we go

How might the rest of your day pan out?
Good question. I have no idea. Today? I’ve got a meeting after lunch. For lunch I am having the leftovers of last night’s dinners. Sausages and vegetables. I am going to go on the tube.

Rob Auton on sleep…

You’re currently touring The Sleep Show – an hour-long poetry, comedy and theatre performance. Why sleep?
I want to talk about aspects of life that I have in common with other people. Sleep is one of those. I want to write about subjects that I wouldn’t normally write about. To explore what sleep means to me. Why do I do it. What is the point. Do I do it for the same reason everybody else does?

Can you tell us a bit about what goes on during the performance?
I stand up on stage and I say “I like sleeping. How does everybody feel about sleeping? Do you enjoy having a break from yourself? I know I do.” I then perform the work I have created around the subject of sleep. When I say work I mean short thoughts and longer thoughts and sing alongs to the Chemical Brothers.

Previous shows include The Yellow Show, The Face Show, The Sky Show. Do you ever worry that you might like to cover more than one topic in a show but it will disrupt this pattern?
I don’t worry about it, no, because there are a lot of subjects for me to look at. I think of the shows as different pieces in the same exhibition really. I’m going to write as many as I can before my ideas dry up. I am enjoying creating the shows at the moment so as long as I keep having ideas that I enjoy or find interesting I will keep writing them. It’s not locked though. If I have an idea for something else I will do that. Next year my show is going to be about hair. Other subjects I would like to cover are clothes, health, gardening, kids, art, death.

Someone said my work was “devoid of all point and meaning” which I thought was quite harsh

When writing a show, where do you look for inspiration?
I think that is one of the good things about having a subject to write about. I just look at the subject. So when it was yellow I was inspired by all the yellow parts of life I could see. I love reading and trying to soak up as much stuff as I can but with the shows just look at the chosen subject for inspiration. I want to think about it for myself to figure out how I feel about it.

You won Funniest Joke at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013. Did it become harder to come up with new jokes after that?
I haven’t written that many jokes to be honest. Sometimes they come along but I don’t have the method of joke writing that some people do. I think for someone like Tim Vine he really knows how to write jokes. I often get the bit where I think “oh there’s something in that” but I can’t frame it for it to become a gag. For example someone was talking about orchids the other day and I’m sure there is a joke to do with aww kids or or kids? I don’t know what it is though.

The only way to find an audience is by doing an absolute tonne of gigs

Which is the toughest audience to impress: poetry, comedy or theatre?
I’m not sure about that. I think they are all equally difficult to impress. Poetry nights can be quite warm sometimes. The audience at a poetry gig want to feel a range of emotions whereas an audience at a lot of comedy nights just want to laugh. That’s fair enough, they have paid their money and they want you to give them what they have paid for. With the theatre shows people are invested in the hour and are up for being taken somewhere so maybe they are the most difficult to impress. The full hour has to be a complete piece whereas it is often shorter sets at comedy and poetry nights.

On your website, you display a selection of reviews, both positive and negative, which are quite funny to read. How do you feel when someone criticises your work?
I don’t mind it really. There are loads of things in the world that I don’t like. Certain foods etc. Criticism is part and parcel of standing up on stage. Part and parcel? Is that right? I’m not googling it. What does it mean? It is part and it is parcel? You what? I have had to come to terms with the fact that some people don’t like what I do and some people do like what I do.

The good thing is that the people who don’t like it don’t come back and the people that do like it do come back. It’s just a case of me trying to find an audience of people I can share my work with. The only way to find an audience is by doing an absolute tonne of gigs. I have got a long way to go but I am at peace with that. I don’t want to do anything else.

Has there been one comment/piece of praise that stands out?
Someone said my work was “devoid of all point and meaning” which I thought was quite harsh. It stings a bit at first but time is good at shoving stuff into the past. I look at that quote and think about my work and whether I want my work to exist or not. The answer is yes for me but it is no for the person who wrote that. I’ve had some belting praise though, it’s on my website robauton.co.uk.

On which stage would you most like to perform, and with whom?
The Royal Albert Hall with Ringo Starr on drums and me talking. He could do the budum tshh after each bit he thought was funny.

What’s the next show going to be?
The Hair Show.

No pressure to top the Chinese Whisper one, but can you tell us a joke…?
I used to be a bit more upbeat than I am now. I used to think CCTV was a very very positive Spanish Television channel.

If you could wake up anywhere tomorrow, where would it be?
In my parents’ spare bedroom.

Any other comments?
Network the film is on Netflix and it is great.