cap_scaleman (cap_scaleman) wrote in interviews_lj,


Robert wringham is the editor of the New Escapologist. He is besides that a journalist, a librarian and sometimes a comedian. I thought it would be nice to get to know this guy a bit more and since he have let me contribute to his Zine it was a sure thing that I would interview him. Read the interview below!

Cap_Scaleman: When speaking of comedy, have you only specialized in stand up comedy? Are there any other kinds of humour that you are interested in?

I'm actually veering away from standup comedy in favour of written humour. The written word has the potential to be far more wry and considered than anything you can do on stage. For me, the difference between the two forms is one of punctuation: when writing a satirical column or something for a book, you can use flippant, cool full stops. On stage, everything has to be followed by an exclamation mark: it's all people screaming and saying "Am I right or what?!" Unless you're big enough to have your own show and are essentially able to cultivate your own 'mood' for the evening (as Daniel Kitson now can), you have to be as shrill as the acts preceding you. If you want to do something quite quiet and heartfelt it's very unpleasant to follow a line of brutal, extravagant acts. If you wanted to present a night of poetry, you probably wouldn't have a rock band as a warm-up act: you need an audience to be receptive to your ideas.

Having said all of this, I saw Anthony J. Brown play my local club the other night. He's about the quietest comedian I’ve ever seen yet he had pretty good command over the audience so that was a boost of confidence. And then there are folk like Ted Chippington - anti-comedians - who tell us not to give a shit about what the crowd does and in fact to encourage hostility! Stewart Lee wrote a great poem about this style called ’I'll only go if you throw glass’.

I love sitcoms as well. But TV is obviously difficult to crack, especially in comedy where TV is unfairly seen as the ultimate goal for standups. I have an idea for a minimalist sitcom: a portmanteau series (with entirely different characters and settings each week) called Anywhere But Here, With Anyone But You. The idea is to strip sitcom back to basics and to put two diametrically opposed individuals in an uncomfortable and ironic situation with no easy escape route. The first episode would be about a sitcom writer trapped in an elevator with a BBC producer (loosely resembling Armando Iannucci) who had rejected his intelligent, urbane script that very morning: it drives our hero crazy because 'trapped in a lift' is probably the ultimate sitcom cliché. There is a bit in my rough draft pilot script where he goes on a tirade about this: "This shouldn't happen to me," he bemoans, "This is my own personal hell. What next? Pyramid piles of nutty chocolates? Sticky wheels on shopping trolleys? It never happens!"

CS: Since this is a "get to know" kind of interview I have a few questions on fashion: (a) what do you wear most of the day and what kind of fashion is it? (b) What kind of fashion do you loathe? (c) Where do you buy your clothes and why?

Well, I'm not the most qualified person in the world to talk about fashion but you're probably asking me about this because you and I have talked about 'the semiotics of style' a few times in the past, so I'll give it a go. At the moment I am wearing suits. For work I have a three-piece of my own invention, which consists of a lightly pinstriped jacket to represent 'city'; a selection from a number of dark-coloured shirts; a thickly knotted black-and-white necktie; black trousers and a waistcoat. The waistcoat is vintage and more a reference to my personality rather than profession. It's a clue to anyone who wonders who I might actually be beyond the job description. I certainly dress smarter than anyone else in the building (where the dress code is actually 'smart casual') but I'm very serious about librarianship as a profession so I dress up for it.

After my first shift, I bumped into a friend on Byers Road who asked what I'd be up to denote dressing so smartly. "Nothing," I replied, "just sitting around the house". I was only joking but I actually decided that this is quite a nice idea so I wear nice suits at home now too.

I don’t particularly ‘loath’ any kind of style. I don’t feel qualified enough to loath.

My clothes tend to come from charity and vintage shops. It's an ethical standpoint as much as anything. When everyone is swimming around in polar ice water I'll be able to stay dry on my moral high ground.

Before this answer turns into a vainglorious passage from American Psycho, we had best move on.

CS: You are the editor of the tripartite zine The New Escapologist. When did you get the idea to the Zine, and why tripartite? For how long have you been into Zines? What kind of participants are there in tNE?

I’ve read zines for as long back as I can remember. I’m a sci-fi fan and sci-fi and zines go hand in hand. As a teenager I produced sci-fi zines in abundance and sold them to local Trekkies. I did two long-running mini-zines called Collective and Retrospect and one issue of a big forty-page zine called Continuum which was too expensive to continue with.

I think I came up with the idea for The New Escapologist about a year ago. I was standing in a train station in Glasgow at about 6am. It was wet and raining and I was on my way to the south side of the city to work in a horrible suburban public library as part of a one-month 'work placement' as part of my Masters Degree in librarianship. It was a horrible time - mid February, wet, full of boring thankless work - and I wasn't getting paid for any of it. I became very depressed: I had to stand in this awful train station every morning at an hour before even God had woken up so that I could ultimately get a career in an industry I was having second thoughts about. Behind me lay student life and a part-time job as a coffee barista: in front of me lay an endless career. Trapped between two nothingnesses, I wanted to escape!

The more I talked to people about this, the more I realised that they felt exactly the same way. Either they were people my age who were worried about submitting to bad faith for the rest of their lives or they were older people who were jaded and angry about the way things had gone for them. Escape turns out to be a major discourse of modern life. Today we have to commit to everything: to relationships, to career paths, to certain ideas or else we're accused of being unfocussed or promiscuous. Run Away! Run Away! It may seem cowardly but the alternative is unappealing. Fight, sure. Fight your socks off: it's good for you and I respect anyone who stands in front of a tank. But the horrible truth is that the House Always Wins. Let's initiate 'Operation Ostridge' - ignore “the House” until it goes away.

The idea of the magazine being a triptych came about because I wanted each issue to be themed: so that the series would be a carefully planned project rather than just randomly published stuff. Three issues is a nice number, I think: it won't get tired or prolonged that way.

As for participants: it is mainly written by artists and writers in my immediate circle - people I know in 'real life' and people whom I have met through my blog. Part of the reason for doing this was to develop a nice collaborative project for all of my friends, especially those who are just starting out and need to develop a portfolio of work.

CS: What would be your kind of ideal lifestyle? Do you think it is important to stay true to a lifestyle throughout, well, the whole life?

I believe that everything should be done in an Aristotelian way: Considered and Ethical. By 'considered' I mean you should know what you're doing and why you're doing it at all times rather than just drifting around the world in a daze. That's what they want you to do! All political struggle is wasted if people don't think. I refer to 'ethical' in a kind of Alasdair Crowley way: Do what you will, so long as it harms none. Always sounded fair enough to me. Jesus said something similar. I remember being irritated at Polly Toynbee once who called upon Guardian readers to relax and to just enjoy this world of plenty without considering the international ramifications. I think she had a momentary lapse of humanism.

Do I think it’s important to stay true to a lifestyle throughout a whole life? No. People put a lot of stock in consistency but surely it's better to change your mind in light of new information. Having said this, it's worrying how much people can change. Look at Syd Barrett. He used to be one of the most radical kids of the sixties but I saw a paparazzi shot of him just before his death and he looked like an old idiot. It fascinates me how people can just 'give up' - was caring about stuff a pretence all along or was there an actual tipping point where it became prudent to change his outlook?

CS: Music is an important part of people's life these days; would you consider it as a bit too important?

Yeah, maybe. Not music per se but the way it is enjoyed. People don't make time for it any more: it always seems to be 'on the go' either on iPods as you walk from A to B or on sound systems in cafes and pubs. Do you remember that Star Trek episode called 'The Game'? A new fad grips the Enterprise crew: a kind of Tetris-like game incorporated into a headset that you wear and play all day. Turns out it was an alien technology designed to placate. iPods, man. That's what they're for.

What happened to downtime? Downtime is nice. Why is it frowned upon? Why do you have consume 100% of the time? When I'm walking home from work, I don't listen to music. The city has a music of it's own.

It's also not about listening to music anymore. It's about acquiring it. To an extent this has been true since Eddison invented the phonograph and made music a marketable commodity but the iPod generation is in another league. Most people I know haven’t listened to half of the tunes on their iPods: they just download it and because it's intangible they forget it's there. The iPod (and eBooks etc) allows for maximum acquisition - it's on a totally unprecedented scale. The companies can keep producing it, we keep buying it and we don't even have to use it.

CS: You're a librarian, but also a journalist. When did you "find out" that you wanted to be a journalist respectively a librarian?

I'm very sincere about librarianship. People seem to think my career is a form of sarcasm but nothing could be further from the truth. Librarianship is not some conservative, finger-wagging thing: it's completely radical. Libraries are, as Ray Bradbury put it, birthing places of the universe, and completely empowering for individuals. They are the very antithesis of everything we hate about modern life. It doesn't matter if they are sometimes run by idiots: they are very important.

I find the size of 'the library' incredible as well. People think there are thousands of little libraries all over the world but I prefer to see that there's actually only one. They are all usually connected via some sort of cooperative infrastructure but what I really mean is that 'the library' = ‘the sum of all explicit human knowledge’. And that is a wowsome affair. All that power and wisdom at my fingertips.

Forget school. If I ever have kids, they're not going to school. School at present is eleven years of intellectual rape. Eleven years! School should last for two months - the time it takes for a person to become 'information literate' - and should help to foster a natural curiosity rather than shove useless algebra down people's gobs. After that, there are the books in the library.

Journalism comes before librarianship in the grand scheme of things just as philosophy comes before writing. Journalists generate material while the librarians look after it. But in that respect - like philosophy and writing - the two go hand in hand. Writers must have philosophy under their belts before they have anything to write. I think librarians should understand certain tenets of journalism too - those of truth, style, intellectual freedom and the ability to address the world.

CS: Do you think that people always can escape from the duty of being "a part of society"?

Good question. The character, Des Esientes in J. K. Huysman's A Rebours tries to do precisely this. He retires almost entirely from society when he decides that it's simply not for him. But the reclusive lifestyle of luxury and opulence he creates for himself only makes him horribly ill and he has to return to the city after all. So perhaps we cannot escape it entirely.

The New Escapologist doesn't advocate total withdrawal. It recognises that there is a desire for it though; respects it and asks how it came about. People are desperate to win the lottery and escape to a private island or to learn how to farm so that they can bugger off to some rural location and be their own boss. It's interesting. But you're right to ask whether this is practical or just a fantasy. I know people who have done it. It's about disillusionment.

It's interesting that you describe the individual's relationship with society as a duty. I think the escape instinct kicks in when we begin thinking in such terms. As Westerners we don't like the idea of duty or commitment. And why should we? We're not ants. We're not communists. Our pop culture is divisive: it tells us to be individuals and to reject things like that. It's a wonder there is a society at all. Maybe there isn't one: perhaps Europe and America are just full of individuals disliking each other.

CS: Are you participating to any zines (other than The New Escapologist) or magazine in the future that we should have a look out for? Which one of them do you like the most and could you tell us a bit more.

Alex Musson and I have been discussing my doing something for his excellent Mustard comedy magazine. Don't know exactly what I'll do yet but it is certainly something I'd like to be involved with.

I've done a few reviews here and there, most notably for The Skinny and also The Cuckoo Press. The Skinny is a bit rubbish in terms of what they let you write about but it's got a wide circulation and it comes out very frequently.

And then there's The Idler which is a truly brilliant magazine for lazy people, for which I may now have a regular column about unusual libraries. The first one is about Saint Deiniol's residential library in Wales. It's available now in the current issue.

If The New Escapologist works, I've got some ideas for other zines: a thing about anarchism and civil disobedience called Cancer Cell and a surrealist journal called Limbo 2. No idea when I'll start work on these but both are exciting plans.


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