Jane Borden wrote an awesome article about me in this week’s issue of Time Out NY. I think she just might’ve captured the essence that is Rob Latham. Check it out (you can also go to the actual article by clicking the title below, or maybe even buyin’ up a hard copy.)
The comedian stars in his own theater of the absurd.
By Jane Borden
This is the third in a series profiling comics who’ll appear Nov 9 in the New York Comedy Festival showcase Time Out New York Approved.
The humor in Rob Lathan’s bits—bits, because they aren’t really characters or sketches—can be garnered from their titles: “Angry guy brushes teeth to Rage Against the Machine,” “Half-assed suicide-cult member,” “John Kerryoke.” His work is top-heavy, based on instantly funny concepts that are then executed with brazen simplicity.
Lathan, who performs Monday 5 at the Upright Citizens Brigade Theatre, his home base, recalls a conversation he had with frequent collaborator Will Hines. “I told him I had an idea to do the Electric Slide on stilts. He goes, ‘Anything else?’ And I was like, ‘Nope, that’s it.’ ”
While witnessing this dance performance—perhaps when he appeared on America’s Got Talent to the utter bewilderment of Regis Philbin—there’s a moment when you yourself realize, Nope, that’s it: He’s really just going to do the Electric Slide on stilts. That’s when his work transcends awkward into the realm of brilliant.
“When you watch him,” says UCBT artistic director Anthony King, “you’re thinking, This is the stupidest thing I’ve ever seen. And also, This guy’s a genius!”
His most requested bit is “Speed Eater,” which Lathan, 31, has performed on Best Week Ever, during VH1’s election coverage and on MTV’s Human Giant marathon. He brings out a table loaded with food (jugs of milk, buckets of chicken, multiple bags of chips and cookies, etc.), announces that he’ll eat it all in one minute and then earnestly tries to. After failing, he says, with despondent sincerity, “I guess I couldn’t do it.” Then, after a long pause, he adds, as if he’d just thought of it, “I wish I had more time.”
“My whole life I’ve been perceived as dim-witted or out of it,” says Lathan. “So playing that character comes naturally.” Indeed, he speaks slowly, has an awkward stage presence and displays the kind of unswerving optimism typical of the slightly insane. It all works to his advantage, allowing him to manipulate the crowd’s preconceptions. “Rob somehow makes himself simultaneously smarter and dumber than his audience,” King says.
It’s hard to tell when Lathan’s in character: The line between the person and the performer is blurry at best. This can confuse his friends; Lathan thrives on the bewilderment surrounding his persona. He doesn’t correct people who mispronounce or write his name as “Latham,” and has even taken to signing e-mails and flyers with the misnomer, leaving many in the comedy scene unsure what his name really is.
Once, at Fenway Park, he left his seat for the concession stand and accidentally reentered the wrong corridor. When his friends noticed him looking for them in the wrong section, they screamed his name. Lathan pretended he couldn’t hear them, exited and reentered through a different hallway. They screamed again; he played dumb again. The pattern repeated until his friends finally got wise.
After hearing about the prank, local scene-makers Improv Everywhere staged it as a large-scale stunt in Yankee Stadium. This resulted in entire sections of the stands screaming “Rob!” in an effort to lead him home. Some groups even started a chant: “Where is Rob? Rob’s retarded!”After a recent performance, one of his friends remarked that everyone thought Lathan was funny in college. “He was just weird and goofy,” she says, “but now I’m wondering if that was all part of a joke.”
Rob Lathan performs Mon 5 in Crash Test and Nov 9 in Time Out New York Approved (stay tuned for details).