After taking a break from stand-up for a couple of years, Robin Ince is back on tour with his latest show, Pragmatic Insanity. A lot has changed since his time away from the stage, as he was quick to note at the outset. Yet rather than making up for lost time, he noted that he was going to steer away from Brexit, Trump and the fact that the world is slowly falling apart, given that everyone else had that covered anyway.
Instead, after an opening half-hour or so of Ince’s ambling observations, almost with polite conversation as a form of invective, singer-songwriter Grace Petrie performed support duties with a short set of unusually personal vignettes, a slight departure from her usual, much more politicised material. A regular touring partner of acts such as Ince and Josie Long, among others, it was no surprise that she also shared a gentle humour in between songs.
Following the interval, Ince – performing in the venue’s cinema, with photographs as a backdrop to illustrate his set – delved into what was part lecture and part comedy show, combining art history and beautifully shaped stories detailing visits to some of his favourite galleries and museums around the UK, using these to explore the relationship between art and science. What it resulted in was a form of love letter to art from the vantage point of a keen outsider, peppered with clever gags but also enough silly observations to prevent the whole from being po-faced.
For all the enjoyably bookish authenticity and intelligence, there’s a resolutely everyman quality which manifested itself in Ince’s relentless curiosity, both admirable and enviable. While he referred to himself as a “professional idiot”, it’s something which the audience could relate to, and his enthusiasm and optimism made for a hugely enjoyable couple of hours. He occasionally stumbled breathlessly, desperate for his brain and mouth to work in tandem – the giddy excitement sometimes proving too much, which itself only contributed further to the comedy, outside of carefully honed jokes and deliciously mundane anecdotes about (his Infinite Monkey Cage co-host) Professor Brian Cox.
Professional idiot or not, Ince knows how to turn his boundless thirst for knowledge and information into an entertaining show packed with jokes. You couldn’t really ask for much more than that.