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Destler Dodge

"Comedy through fear" is the slogan of comedian John Robertson, and it fits his style perfectly. From his early days portraying a dangerous-looking Baptist priest, to his current formula that involves heckling his audience, Robertson has always had a penchant for getting laughs by being somewhat terrifying.

Though his name isn't particularly well-known throughout the United States, he's fairly popular in his home country of Australia and in the United Kingdom. He tours his stand-up shows and an interactive game based on old text adventure games that he calls "The Dark Room." Currently, he's also the co-host of the U.K. television show "Videogame Nation."

His stand-up mixes rehearsed jokes, which are what make up most other comedians' stand-up routines, along with what can best be described as improvised audience-heckling. In an exclusive interview with Reporter, he explained that this style was developed over time, with varying degrees of success along the way. The first show he did was entirely improvised because Robertson believed that all stand-up comedy was improvised and that comics didn't reuse jokes. His second show crashed and burned. After that, he started writing jokes and reusing them as most comedians do, but still improvised here and there in his stand-up. For example, Robertson developed a character he used during shows. This character was a racist, southern Baptist priest that would attack any audience member that agreed with any of the terrible things he said. Once Robertson had a hold of the basics of stand-up, however, he started adding in more and more improvisation. He learned to read the people in the audience and heckle them.

While some might think that attacking your own audience isn't the best idea, it gets big laughs. Robertson's reasoning is that people like it when they can relate to the person on stage, or when the person on stage can relate to them, and he spends a lot of his shows doing the latter. People like hearing about themselves. "Even if what you're saying is 'You are a worthless, loathsome scumbag,' they're like, 'I am! Tell me again!'" said Robertson. 

After 13 years of doing comedy, he has learned how to look into people and tell them exactly what he thinks of them and find comedy in it. A lot of what he does is insulting people in such a way that they understand he's not actually a bully, he's just playing one. In his words, "[The jokes] are sitting there, they're in the front row, they're in every row. I'll just go find them."

"[The jokes] are sitting there, they're in the front row, they're in every row. I'll just go find them."

Aside from his stand-up, Robertson has another comedy act that he tours. "The Dark Room" is an interactive show in which one audience member finds themselves trapped in a dark room and must escape, in a style similar to a 1980s text adventure. The game is huge, with tons of options and paths for participants to take, and laden with humor, insults and death. However, many of the paths lead to dead ends. More often than not, a participating audience member will end their run in The Dark Room hearing the words "Ya die! Ya die! Ya die!" Should someone survive The Dark Room, however, a prize of £1,000 awaits them. Even players that meet an untimely end are usually given a consolation prize, such as a pair of Robertson's jeans from when he was 8 years old.

The Dark Room concept was first developed in the midst of one of Robertson's stand-up shows at Australian anime convention Wai-Con. The audience was getting a bit out of hand, and he managed to reel them in by making a joke about old text adventure games, then improvising the game. He had the stage crew kill the lights, and trapped the audience in The Dark Room for the very first time. By giving the audience something to do, he managed to calm the heckling and get them focused on one thing. The game got a lot of laughs from everyone who was involved. After seeing how well it went over, he developed a YouTube series based on the idea, which ended up going viral. It was featured on news shows and even garnered death threats from frustrated players. From there, The Dark Room became a touring live show (and was recently given a new, updated series on YouTube).

Although he isn't well-known in the United States — in fact, the only show he's done in this country was in a Mexican sandwich shop in Las Vegas — he's expressed interest in coming to the States to perform. All he needs is for someone to cover the travel expenses, and he'd gladly make appearances. In fact, after hearing about it, he even expressed interest in making an appearance at RIT's Tora-Con, stating, "Tora-Con book me, you pricks." Robertson has hosted a lot of anime and cosplay shows in the past, and is very much a part of what most people would consider "nerd culture." He's even had the chance to befriend some of the voice actors for shows like "Neon Genesis Evangelion."

While he may be almost entirely unknown to Americans, most people can appreciate Robertson's style of loud, audience-insulting humor. A number of recordings of his stand-up, as well as both YouTube series of "The Dark Room" (and a few recordings of live "Dark Room" shows) can be found on his YouTube channel, Mr. John Robertson. More information about his tour dates and locations, The Dark Room and merchandise can be found at his website, thejohnrobertson.com.