I've been spending a goodly number of Mondays recently camped out in the dimly lit basement of a bar lately, watching a manic Australian ridicule the intelligence of his audience for an hour and a half whilst prancing about with an Xbox controller strapped to his chest and pretending to be a floating head.
Any of you who read my interview with the man himself -- one Mr. John Robertson -- last year will know that there's a good reason for this. Robertson is a fan of the classic, text-based adventure games that were b*stard hard and seemed to have no small amount of contempt for the player, and so he designed his own. And then turned it into a live, interactive stageshow, and then a YouTube multi-million hit sensation, and then a stageshow again.
Having taken The Dark Room all over the world, he's now doing a residency at the Gem Bar in London with the show every Monday, but is also set to play his biggest show in the UK to date at the London Southbank Udderbelly Festival, where he'll be bringing his live-action videogame to a 400-seater setting inside of a giant, upside-down, purple cow.
I'll let John explain it better in his own words:
Hey there. I’ve created a mystery. A weird, addictive mystery. It’s a game. It’s a comedy show. It’s terrible prizes. It’s immersive, it’s insane and it’s on in London in a minute. What? Here we go…
About two-and-a-half years ago, I was onstage at an anime convention doing a routine in front of 1,500 people. It was going well, but getting raucous – and I thought it’d be cool to try a new bit I’d written, about those TEXT ADVENTURES FROM THE 1980S THAT WEREN’T EVER FUN, THEY WERE JUST HARD AND UNFORGIVING.
I got the techs to turn off the lights in the theatre and boomed into the mic, “YOU AWAKE TO FIND YOURSELF IN A DARK ROOM!”
Then I started shouting options in the mic… and there was a riot.
1,500 anime fans screaming and shouting out options and ways to escape a dark room – they went genuinely nuts. By the time I got home, my Facebook was full of people writing, ‘YOU AWAKE TO FIND YOURSELF IN A DARK ROOM”.
So the next day, I went on YouTube and turned it all into a proper game you could click through. It went viral. There was money and death threats and tweets from people whose work I love and I turned up on NPR and on French TV and in Variety magazine and somewhere on that website about the cats.
Then I decided it’d be a good idea to turn it into a live, interactive stand-up show and take it to the Edinburgh Fringe. It rocked. Imagine a stand-up show where the audience fights the comedian for terrible prizes and freedom… FREEDOM… FROM THE DARK ROOM. Ian Livingstone rocked up and was wonderful and is a great supporter of the show.
It’s the ultimate version of multiplayer – DOTA got nothing on me. Twitch plays Pokemon? Awesome, but I choose me.
So then we took it back to the convention where it all started, Wai-Con in Western Australia. I crowd-surfed.
Now it’s 2014, I’ve had 4,000,000 YouTube hits, this show has carried me around the world and now it’s heading to a 400 seat theatre in London.
If this manic shit hasn’t convinced you, I’ll be on Videogame Nation on Challenge at 9.30am on Sunday 6th April and you can hear what happens when words like this get spoken with an Australian accent. -- John Robertson
The show takes place on the evening Friday 18th April, it's a late one kicking off at 10:45 PM, and you can buy tickets here.
If you need further incentive to go along, I strongly recommend that you read this. The only two people who've won at the live version have been Brendon Burns, another riotously funny Aussie comic, and his chum. It's a cracking, electric experience with a packed house -- as I said of the show I saw up in Edinburgh last year, "we're all in it together, all of us up against the maniacal, Machiavellian Floating Head. We laugh as one, we gasp as one, and in the end we choose as one." It's uniquely thrilling, a show that you "play" rather than "watch", with the audience irresistibly complicit in the comic action every step of the way. I can't recommend it enough.
Thankfully, there are others who can help out there:
"One of Australia's Top Ten Young Comics" - Zoo Magazine
"Ridiculously entertaining" - Kate Copstick, The Scotsman
"The highlight was Robertson - he's funny and sharp… and possibly as manic as his furry friends - we were sorry when his set came to an end" - The Daily Telegraph
★★★★★ - The Skinny (2013)
★★★★ - Steve Bennett, Chortle (2013)
I'm not being paid to promote the show, hitting up retailers for affiliate links is hard enough let alone comedians, but I want to see it do well. For myself (because all comedy shows are better when there's a big audience to feed off of), for John (he's a lovely chap who'll almost certainly be happy to chat over a pint after the show), and for The Dark Room itself, which is one of the most unique comedy/performance shows I've had the fortune to witness. It's addictive as hell, frustrating and hilarious (as so many of those retro games were), and I keep coming back to play again because of it.
Also because I really wanted to win a plushie in the shape of a cupcake for my girlfriend. Definitely for her. Not for me.