Our friend in the north

Rob Rouse
Rob Rouse

Stand-up comic Rob Rouse faces up to life as a responsible adult but still gets into plenty of scrapes, he assures Ian Soutar

COMEDIAN Rob Rouse is touring the UK with a show called The Great Escape which centres on his decision to leave London and move back up north. He first performed it at the Edinburgh Festival last summer.

“That was 55 minutes so I have expanded it for the tour but as it’s based on personal experience there’s been a lot in my life since August,” he explains. “I have been on the hoof and doing stuff and in a way the show is never finished.”

According to the publicity for The Great Escape: “The more Rob behaves like an idiot, the more scrapes he gets into, the more funny stories he has to tell you.”

That’s not to say, he insists, that he goes around looking for potential material. “When things are happening I don’t think this will be a good story. You are in the middle of it and feeling the pain and wondering why you are doing this.”

Referring to one of the anecdotes in his act, he continues: “When I was putting the dead sheep in the boot of my car on the Snake Pass on the hottest day of the year, all I was thinking was this will be the mother of all barbecues and on Sunday I can invite the whole of the village round.”

We will clearly have to see the act to know the outcome but it is safe to assume it didn’t go to plan and the population of Hathersage did not dine out on barbecued lamb that day. It still seems a strange thing to do but apparently Rouse had previously come across a recently deceased rabbit which did make it to the table and that had given him an appetite for road kill. Clearly country life is getting to him.

The thought occurs that an act built around quitting London might be received differently when performing it in the metropolis from the rest of the country.

“The key thing is where you put the emphasis,” he says. “If you are telling a story and it’s based on your personal experience, instead of saying this is what it’s like in a city then you are letting people into your world. This is what I did and this is how it made me feel, that’s important to take them on your journey.

“I loved living in London where I was for 12 years but this is where I am now and my family is here too in the North and my take on both places is positive. Everyone in the city has been to the country so they understand my frame of reference.”

The Sheffield university graduate and one-time trainee teacher in the city reckons his act has become more personal over the past four or five years. “I am 37 and beginning to have a handle on who I am.”

He has swapped the rock ‘n’ roll existence on the road of late-night carousing for more of a family life (with a toddler son, dog and another child on the way).

“It’s pulled me into the real world I couldn’t have imagined before and I think my act is all the better for it as a result. When I started out it was more surreal and now it’s more what’s there in front of you and what I choose to write about evolves more organically.”

Even so, how does he balance this family life with a UK tour? “Living where I do (in the Peak District) I can drive to most places and Helen (his partner, actress Helen Rutter, herself featured on these pages last week) is supportive, enabling me to do what I do. The flipside is I am around during the day, it’s swings and roundabouts. If you are out boozing after a gig every night then you will have a problem. It’s a question of making the best of what you have. One is loving doing a job that doesn’t feel like work and at the same time I have spent a lot of time with my son.”

He is near the end of the tour, which rounds off with a couple of nights in London’s West End, at the end of June, and won’t be going to the Edinburgh Festival this year for various reasons.

One of them is that over the summer he will be filming a pilot sitcom he has written. Baby Cow, the production company set up by Steve Coogan and Henry Normal, are behind it. “We have to have it finished by the end of August and I will try and do it close to home,” he says. “It’s called Nice Guys Finish Last and is kind of autobiographical. It’s inventive in terms of being different from how people are used to seeing single-camera narrative comedy but I can’t say much more than that.”

Rob Rouse is at the Memorial Hall on Tuesday, assuming he survives the 100km charity walk he is undertaking this weekend in aid of Oxfam.