Never mind the 40th Buxton Fringe, comedian Rob Rouse has a celebration of his own going on.
21 Years in Showbusiness!, which will be performed Underground at The Old Clubhouse, is “an irreverent romp through the last 21 years of showbusiness and my 45 years on this earth”, or at least it will be when he has finished writing it!
The problem with appearing at festivals, he says, is that: “you are never ready to fill the forms in. I think that is a metaphor for life… but you have to fill in the forms at some point and commit to the show, commit to doing it and commit to a title - and then you have to make sense of it all.”
Though familiar to many as Bottom in BBC Two’s Shakespearean comedy Upstart Crow, he defines himself as a stand up.
“TV and radio come and go, but the one thing that is a constant is stand up,” he explains.
“You cast yourself as a stand up… you always get the part.”
He believes that comedy is inevitably personal: “Whether you talk directly about things or in a completely off beam, surrealist, abstract way, it is all confessional.”
Just how much to reveal is an interesting dilemma and in a second Fringe show, Funny in Real Life, created with his actor wife Helen Rutter, the pair explore what happens when a stand-up’s wife decides he cannot mention her onstage.
Rouse said: “I’m always drawn to stuff that makes you or the audience slightly uncomfortable because that generally means it is something we ought to look at.”
Clearly the play echoes his own life, especially now they have a family: “If my children asked me not to talk about something on stage, or Helen did, then I would have to really take that into account… but also where is your artistic freedom as a writer, as a clown?”
He and Rutter also write and star in a comedy podcast called Rob and Helen’s Date Night in which they rekindle their relationship through bizarre dates.
He says there is “a real sense of play about it” that reminds him of when they first fell for each other: “We’d mess around and make stupid films together”, but the topics they discuss are deliberately near-the-knuckle. If the first time you sit down in a week and have a real conversation is when the microphones are on, that’s a recipe for a disaster.
“You need to know where you are in your life before you start making fun of each other.”
Originally from Macclesfield, Rouse now lives with his family in the Peak District, while Helen hails from Sheffield.
“This part of the woods always felt like home”, he says.
“We moved back up in about 2010 from London. For touring and stand up, being in the middle is lovely and it is a lovely place to come home to.”
Rutter’s play Human won her a Fringe Award in 2016 and they performed together for the first time in The Ladder last year in Buxton: “I loved it… it is a brilliant festival.”
Audiences should make sure they see him at the Buxton Fringe, especially as there is no telling whether Ben Elton’s Upstart Crow is coming back.
“The BBC in their behind-closed-doors mysticism haven’t said anything at all,” he says.
“I think it is a cracking show… just get letter writing. It’s your BBC! I know for a fact that everyone would love to do one.”
Live stand-up is where he feels he has most control. In his billing for 21 Years in Showbusiness! Rouse claims to have learnt “absolutely nothing” through his career, but in conversation this cheerful performer, who started out as a geography teacher, says there is one thing he has picked up: “I’ve learnt that there is a virtue in staying doing the thing that you are doing if you are enjoying it.
“And it can be as interesting as you make it ultimately.”