Edinburgh Fringe Review – Robin Ince, Weapons of Empathy, Gilded Balloon

Edinburgh Fringe Review – Robin Ince, Weapons of Empathy, Gilded Balloon

Robin Ince is well known among his fans for going over his allotted time, but for this show he went in the other direction. He started before his allotted time. I walked in bang on 1pm as is my wont and Ince was already in full flow. Corduroy jacket on. Book in hand. A few piles of books by his side. I'd not only missed some pre-gig preamble but he'd already handed out cards asking his audience to list books that had helped them to be more empathetic.

Weapons of Empathy is an absolute powerhouse of a paean to publishing in all of its forms. Comics, literature, fact, fiction, fanzines, poetry. Self-proclaimed bibliomaniac Ince's cup absolutely runneth over with enthusiasm for the mind-expanding powers of the printed word. 

I could easily fill my required word count by merely listing the books that Ince mentions in his breathless hour and a bit. But then I'd have no room to mention his skill at telling an anecdote. Even though he has a habit of digressing that would win him multiple gold medals if digressing was ever to become an Olympic sport, unlikely I know, he still sticks relatively rigidly to his subject here, while finding time for, among other things, you'd-believe-they-are-in-the-room impressions of Brian Cox (scientist not actor) and Stewart Lee. 

Oh, and on the subject of digressing, Ince and this show won an award this week – the ADHD Comedy Award at the Neurodiverse Review Awards 2023, given to the best act, production or show in the comedy category that identifies as having ADHD.

Anyway, meanwhile back onstage, Ince talks with profound passion about his experiences with books and the way they haven't just taught him things, they have brought people together, creating bonds, warmth, love, positivity. Judging by his bottomless well of stories of indie bookshop visits where he invariably leaves weighed down with new purchases it sounds like he seems to spend more time browsing shelves than onstage – it is no surprise that customers have been known to mistake him for a member of staff. 

Elsewhere he talks of encounters with children and how he has connected with and championed their enthusiasm, imagination and curiosity where others might have dampened it down. Ince is that strange contradiction that you often find in comedians. Self-deprecating, yet brimming over with confidence when the conversation turns to a subject he loves.

And he certainly has a wide range of loves. In the show I saw – others may differ - he endorsed the work of Tove Jansson, Noddy Holder's lift announcements in The New Art Gallery in Walsall, Stanley Spencer, William Blake, The Magic Roundabout, Jean Rhys and many more.

It is not just the original words in the books though. There is also the marginalia, the scribbles by the readers that tell their own story. Where they bought the book. Where they read it. Whether they finished it. 

Towards the end this inveterate book hoarder told some particularly touching stories about his parents. After his mother died he and his sister unearthed some letters she had written and he suddenly saw her in a new light. Words matter. He also talked movingly about his father, who in his nineties finally said he was not going to buy any more books because he already owned more than he would have time to read in his remaining years. Shortly afterwards another package of books arrived in the post. Remind you of anybody?

And most affectingly, he talked of the last book his father read, a biography of 39 Steps actor Robert Donat. Ince senior was a reader to the very end. I should imagine Ince junior will not be digressing much from that path himself.

Until August 27. Tickets here.

Read more reviews here.


four stars


Articles on beyond the joke contain affiliate ticket links that earn us revenue. BTJ needs your continued support to continue - if you would like to help to keep the site going, please consider donating.

Zircon - This is a contributing Drupal Theme
Design by WeebPal.