Star of 2018’s Britain’s Got Talent, Robert White has been described as “the only Aspergic, dyslexic, cross lateral, gay, quarter-Welsh” comedian. He’s currently touring the country on The Tank Top Tour – Take 2.
Interview by Tom Jamison
How are you?
Um… massively overwhelmed. But c’est la vie.
You talk a lot about quite sensitive issues… When is a diverse strand such as disability or sexual orientation funny?
Well I’m not sure whether it is in itself. I think lots of things are funny. Some people say things on stage. Different people have ownership of different things; maybe people need to.
For me, when I started out in comedy, I needed to explain my nervousness and all of that sort of stuff. If you’re standing up in front of a bear pit on a Saturday night at a hen or a stag do, you can’t just come out and go, ‘Oh I’m autistic, give me a chance’. And this is years and years ago when it wasn’t in the public domain as it is now. Basically, funny things are funny. I talk about what I talk about because that’s what I want and have to talk about.
Do you feel some kind of release when you discuss what might be difficult things to otherwise discuss?
I think it’s much more complicated than that. Performing on stage is so very, ridiculously tricky to do. There’s probably nicer and easier things I can do, and the reason I did it when I started out was because I couldn’t work in an office because I kept on getting fired from offices because of people misunderstanding me.
I think there’s a lot of benefit to working on my own and there’s a lot of benefit to working in an industry where if you seem slightly diva-ish, it’s apologised for. It’s a benefit that you’re performing to your high skills and the things you can do. There’s a lot of benefit to the fact that you can seem exceptional, because if you’re exceptionally brilliant at something and you have a bit of a spat or a wobbly, then they’ll employ you – touch wood! Whereas, I’ve found that if you’re one of another 100 call centre workers and you say you need some sort of assistance, a lot of people think it’s too much hassle, particularly with things which are invisible.
The thing about invisible disabilities: it’s the have you got it, have you not got it..? And because of that they can think you’re being rude. I’m sure there’s lots of benefit too; you know, the fact that a lot of times you can pass it off and you can mask it and stuff.
But in answer to your question, is comedy cathartic? It is and it isn’t. It is anything and everything because it’s all-encompassing of my life. So
sometimes it brings a sense of achievement, sometimes it brings annoyance, sometimes you fail, and sometimes you do very well.
With no judges on the tour, what might your songs be ‘aimed at’?
The judges are all coming on the tour with me! No, I’m joking, I couldn’t afford that.
Who knows? Maybe I’ll pick out people from the audience, maybe I’ll do other things.
I’ll be doing lots of little jokes and tickling with the audience and maybe pick on people who aren’t at the front, maybe do things with the whole audience. The comedy’s going to be spontaneous but there’s also some planned bits; lots of jokes and a little bit more about my life than on the last tour.
My last tour was just about sort of being funny and a few things about autism. And this is going to be sort of a bit more of a lens into my life.
Some of that sounds really high-risk…
You’ve got to accept that sometimes you get bitten. But the more you get bitten, the better you get at being able to make things which went wrong then, funny again, if that makes sense.
You seem to relish that prospect.
I’m looking forward to connecting with people; seeing the people I saw before and the sort of inspiration you get by young people coming up and saying that they’ve seen me and that I’m something to them and that what I’ve done means something to them; more than just making them laugh, that’s always very special. It’s going be fun sharing ideas and thoughts and songs and bits of my life that people won’t know about with the audience. It’ll be fun just doing the show, having a laugh and seeing what happens.
Each show is going be different.
You’re very explosive on stage. How do you think you’ll keep that going over the tour?
If you’re explosive 24 hours a day, then you might not be able to do it. But if you’re doing it one hour a night, and it’s naturally in you and you’re possibly slightly introverted the rest of the day… Everything balances out, doesn’t it?
Where do you get your tank tops?
Usually off eBay where they come five sizes too small. But one out of every seven does fit. After this has all gone wrong I’m planning to open a tank top shop. I don’t know what it’s going to be called… Tank Topman or something… Tank Topshop?
People send them to me from anywhere and everywhere, I get them from vintage charity shops, and my mum made one for me.
What’s the question that you wish I’d asked you?
What’s the time? No, the question I wish you’d asked me is: ‘What’s the best thing about your tour?’
What’s the best thing about your tour?
I think the audience and the smiles and the interaction and the fun and amazing time that we’re going to have!