In Profile: Ro Campbell

Ro Campbell has been exploring his criminal roots. Recently he got even closer to the world of crime, with a controversial gig in a prison.

Feature by Bernard O'Leary | 29 Jul 2011

The Sun went on the rampage recently after Ro Campbell played a gig in Perth prison. Condemning the show as "no laughing matter", Murdoch's paper, along with the Tories and Taxpayers Alliance, attacked the decision to spend public funds on entertaining prisoners. Campbell doesn't sound bothered. "I believe in redemption,” he says, “and comedy's a great avenue for that. Plus, it was tremendous publicity for my Fringe show."

So how did the inmates stack up against the average comedy club crowd? "It wasn't the easiest crowd I've ever played," says Campbell, "then again, I shouldn't have started by asking if there were any couples in. My buddy told a story about a famous murder a few years ago and the audience laughed in a way that was disproportionate to the joke. He asked what was up; turned out the guy who had done it was in the room."

Campbell has a new-found respect for criminals, following recent revelations about his own ancestors. Growing up in Australia, he never knew much about his Scottish roots apart from his surname. After some investigation he discovered that the Campbell family name was carried to Australia by his Edinburgh-born grandmother, who spent time in Perth prison before being deported in the 1840s.

“I’ve been getting to know her through the criminal records, and she was a feisty one. She was deported after trying to buy a bottle of whisky in Grassmarket with forged shillings. She was only 23. It was her sixth offence, but most of the others were for ‘quarelling’, which was basically talking back to a policeman. She was quite political actually, she got arrested again in Australia for protesting against the building of a railway.”

The investigation into his roots was prompted after Campbell’s victory in Ha Ha Comedy's Scottish Comedian Of The Year competition was criticised due to his not being technically Scottish, despite having started his comedy career here. He says he went a little bit insane after that, becoming obsessed with finding his Scottish roots. “I thought if I could turn up a Scottish folk hero then that'd be awesome, but all I found was a couple of crooks.”

Ultimately, the controversy calmed down and so did Campbell. Showing some of his great-great-great-grandmother’s quarrelsome spirit, he says, “I’m not bothered now. I really identify with this place and I choose to be here.”

Ro Campbell - 'Uttering Bad Shllings', Stand IV, 3-28 August (not 15), 10.35pm

Ro’s tips for the Fringe: “Tony Law is one of the genuine artists of the Fringe; go see my mates Damien Clarke and Gav Webster; and DeAnne Smith who’ll be appearing at my showcase.”