Comedian John-Luke Roberts returns to the Lowry with his new show, ‘After Me Comes the Flood (But in French) drip splosh splash drip BLUBBP BLUBBP BLUBBPBLUBBPBLUBBP!!’ Jokes about staring into the Nietzschean void, the stupid decisions of kings and how Pinocchio can save the world all might make appearances in this hour of absolute silliness. But who knows what could happen!
He talks to Carmel Thomason about clowning, going minimalist with the props, and why a gag from the 80s still hits the funny bone.
Your latest show is called: ‘After Me Comes the Flood (But in French) drip splosh splash drip BLUBBP BLUBBP BLUBBPBLUBBPBLUBBP!!’ How would you describe it?
John-Luke: “I’m debating whether to describe it as “An hilarious stupid romp through too many daft characters and far too many silly ideas performed by me in a pink suit” or “just terrific”. I guess I’ll go with just terrific because I don’t want to undersell myself”.
Why do your shows have such long titles?
John-Luke: “I find them funny. But it’s also quite a good way of getting the right people in to see it – if you don’t find an awkward and ridiculous long title funny, then this probably isn’t the show for you”.
You are just over a month into your tour, do you change the material much as you go along?
John-Luke: ” It changes every show a bit – the performance changes with the audiences reaction to different bits. And the material changes over the tour, but not in any planned way – it’s a mixture of improvised bits and sudden thoughts of “oh it would be funny if this character did this thing”. Over the course of several shows I’ll find some sketches or routines have changed significantly, but I didn’t really notice it while it was happening.
How did training at the school of master clown, Philippe Gaulier influence your comedy?
John Luke: “I learnt some every useful lessons and got thoroughly irritated at the same time. I mean, the basic teaching method is you perform in front of the class and an old man hits a drum when you’re boring and you have to leave. So, the main lesson is don’t let an audience get bored. Another lesson was think about what the audience see, not just what they’re hearing. Why not have a costume that’s fun to look at? Why not use your body to make jokes land better? Another lesson (let’s call it lesson 3) was you don’t entirely get to choose the type of comedy you do – you need to listen to an audience and let them tell you the ways in which you’re funny. And lesson four, if everyone (you and the audience) are having fun, then that’s enough”.
Which clowns have inspired your comedy and how?
John-Luke: “It was a workshop with Doctor Brown that let me know I was missing something. He said something about how if you spend the first 15 minutes listening to the audience and giving them what they want, then they’ll go with you anywhere you want to take them. And watching Carlo Jacucci’s caterpillar routine was a thing of wonder. Oh and Spymonkey – they do the funniest naked scene I’ve ever watched. Although I’m keeping my clothes on in this show”.
Why did you choose stand-up comedy over circus clowning?
John-Luke: “I studied clowning quite far into my comedy writing and performing career, so I was already used to stand-up spaces. I wouldn’t know how to pursue circus clowning properly, and I guess there’s an anonymity to being a circus clown that doesn’t really suit my ego. To some extent, all these different art forms are the same thing anyway. It’s just a label to let the audience expect ‘something’.”
In this show you give away a lot of the punchlines before the joke. Where did that idea come from and how does it work for the audience?
John-Luke: “I was thinking about how I find surprises hard to deal with – I like it when everything goes to plan. That made me think about how a joke is a sentence with a surprise at the end: I thought “can you give away the punching and still have the joke work?” I’ve found when I tell the audience a punchline, then when it pops up in context, they sort of laugh harder to reward themselves for having remembered. And it’s fun to give the audience all the pieces, and still surprise them with how they come together”.
What is your favourite prop in the show and why?
John-Luke: “My ingenuity, because it makes me feel clever”.
Your last tour, ‘All I Wanna Do Is [FX: GUNSHOTS] With a [FX: GUN RELOADING] and a [FX: CASH REGISTER] and Perform Some Comedy!’ included 53 props. How many have you got this time?
John-Luke: “None! I’ve streamlined! Partly because I love having an audience imagine all the scenes and characters and the things they’re playing with, and partly because touring with a lot of props is tiresome”.
What is your favourite gag or sketch of all time?
John-Luke: “What’s ET short for? Because he’s got little legs”.
Is there anything else you’d like to say about the show?
John-Luke: “If you bring your friends, ask them if they like the title first”.
John-Luke Roberts brings his show, ‘After Me Comes the Flood (But in French) drip splosh splash drip BLUBBP BLUBBP BLUBBPBLUBBPBLUBBP!!’ to The Lowry, Salford Quays on 23 November 2019 and is touring the UK til March 2020. See website for full tour details.