For the uninitiated, Tony Robinson played the dimwitted, hysterically funny and filthy (physically, mostly) sidekick to Rowan Atkinson’s Black Adder in the British comedy series of the same name.
His character of Baldrick, whether unwittingly burning the only copy of the first English language dictionary in Black Adder III, or voicing bits of working class folk wisdom in Black Adder IV, you could rely upon him to be as funny as he was stupid, and representing “everyman” — the guy who epitomizes the unsung slob, slogging along doing the grunt work. In WWI (Black Adder IV) he manned the trenches; in Elizabethan England (Black Adder II) he fetched the water. I often got the feeling that he would be right at home as a peasant in Monty Python’s Holy Grail shouting, “Bring out your dead, bring out your dead!” But always, no matter in which century Baldrick dwelled, he always had a "very cunning plan."
In the years since Black Adder, Robinson has become well known in the UK for history-oriented television series such as The Worst Jobs in History and Time Team. Last spring, Robinson created a one-man, largely improvised show, striking many of the themes that have been important to him over the last 20 years or more: history, politics, and carrying the banner for the common man. The show played all over England and was such a roaring success that it filmed live and was released on DVD in the UK last autumn. Acorn Media will be releasing Tony Robinson’s Cunning Night Out in the US on February 19.
Robinson comes out on stage still dressed like everyman, 21st century style: work shirt, rolled-up sleeves, and khakis. No longer Rowan Atkinson’s sidekick, Robinson rants (entertainingly) about people like his dad, a WWII flight mechanic in the RAF, who fixed the planes that those fly-boys, scarves aflutter, flew — and got all the girls to boot.
One glorious rant has us traipsing through British royal history from Richard I all the way to Charles II. Along with the laughs, we foray into educational side trips through history, taking the audience, for example to the Battle of Agincourt. He takes us behind the scenes of the battle, where the knights' shining armor was really not so shiny. And of course the real work at Agincourt was accomplished by the poor slobs who had to clean up the mess afterwards.
All the while, during the 80-minute show, Robinson scurries manically back and forth across the stage. While it doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of Robinson’s routine, it can be sometimes slightly distracting.
Much of Cunning Night Out is composed of little stories and reminiscences — and quite a bit is biographical. Robinson’s reminiscence of filming Worst Jobs in History (which is shown in the US on The History Channel), is particularly amusing as he explains some of the unusual (and quite dangerous) situations into which he fell. Like several of the television series in which he has starred over the years, Robinson’s stand-up comedy teaches as it entertains. British comedian Eddie Izzard has called Robinson a “god of history.”
The DVD extras include several audience question and answer sessions, including a segment about his days on Black Adder. Asked whether there might be a Black Adder reunion, Robinson replied to the audience that plans had been in the works for a series set in the 1960s with Black Adder as the illegitimate son of Queen Elizabeth II. However, he said that those plans were indefinitely placed on hold because Hugh Laurie, who co-starred in the final two seasons of Black Adder, had suddenly become the “second most famous man in America.”
If you enjoy history and cerebrally low-brow (oxymoronic as that sounds) comedy, or if you are Black Adder aficionado, you will enjoy Tony Robinson's Cunning Night Out. Available from Acorn Media on DVD February 19.