Review: Elis & John Present the Holy Vible

Elis and John Present the Holy Vible audiobook cover. Elis James (left) stands with hands clasped in prayer, wearing a blue shirt. John Robins (right) in purple, looks into the camera. The background is orange with the title above the men. Elis and John Present the Holy Vible: The Book The Bible Could Have Been by Elis James.
My rating: 4 of 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Duration: 11 hrs 43 mins.
Publisher: Orion Publishing Group Limited.

Elis and John Present The Holy Vible by Elis James and John Robins is a jovially rambling, warm, open, and very funny glimpse into the lives and friendships of the two funniest comedians on BBC Radio 5Live (at least on Friday afternoons). Not to be missed if you subscribe to their podcasts, I'm not sure how well it would translate for new listeners.
Audible Summary: "Comedians Elis James and John Robins have captured the hearts and minds of a generation, and it's time those hearts and minds had a book.

Elis and John met in 2005 performing stand-up comedy in a pub called The Yellow Kangaroo in Cardiff. They eyed each other suspiciously before Robins offered the limpest handshake in the history of the world. 'It was a power play,' says Robins. 'I may even have raised it for him to kiss.' 

James expands: 'It was one of the weirdest things I'd ever experienced, but having known John now for over a decade, it was the tip of the iceberg. I can honestly say he's the oddest man I've ever met.'

Little did they know that 10 years later they would be presenting a radio show together that would make them comedy royalty.... Okay, radio comedy royalty... Okay, commercial digital indie radio royalty... But with a podcast!

Now, The Elis James and John Robins' Show has become cult listening, and that cult has registered for charitable status, published quarterly accounts and been given a full blessing by the Archbishop of Broadcasting. It's official: Elis and John are a religion, and this book is their Holy Vible.

Our obsessions make us what we are, and though you may never have addressed a will to Brian May or cried watching Ronnie O' Sullivan make a 147, you'll have done something similar, and Elis and John are here to tell you that you're not weird, so come on in, and taste the vibe! Or should I say, listen to the vibe!

©2018 John Robins, Elis James (P)2018 Orion Publishing Group Limited."

Before I begin my review, I have to confess to only discovering the boys' show when they moved to BBC radio. I'd loved Elis in Josh, and Curious Under the Stars (which is available in full on the BBC Sounds app), but didn't know much about John beyond a few panel show appearances and a widely-publicised Edinburgh Fringe thematic standoff reminiscent of noughties half-forgottens Eamonn and Frankee. I was delighted that they jointly narrated this book themselves, as within minutes of their first show they had me in stitches and I've been a PCD ever since. (Podcast Devotee, in case the acronym confuses anyone. I'm no Pussycat Doll. The only bits I've had inflated were let down again once the doctor pulled the camera back out.)

Speaking of which, one of my favourite parts of this audiobook was the improvised bit for Chapter I: It's Only A Body. Elis and John are at their funniest and most candid when they are just chatting and trying to make each other laugh. Having the shorter reflective discussions between chapters was also great fun, as it helped the audiobook not feel too staid or scripted, and I loved all the S of the P's chat.

During Chapter J: John's Shame Well, I briefly drifted off thinking of my own past shames, and when it caught my attention again it took me far too long to realise that John had not changed into sparkly Ann Summers underwear in a train toilet to go and see a boy he'd met on holiday. He was just reading out Shame Well stories from the radio show. I think it took me so long to twig that it wasn't John because the lady I mistook him for ate a large curry while longing to escape the strangers by whom she was surrounded. Considering how many of John's stories begin (or end) that way, and his back problems, the corset didn't seem that unbelievable.

One of the most important chapters in the book was Chapter L: Living, Grief is. The boys' candour and supportive, non-judgemental attitude to emotional wellbeing has become a prominent feature of their work since the publication of this book, and even more so now that they have launched the brilliant podcast How Do You Cope? I loved their openness to mental health issues in this section via The Darkness of Robins, and the understanding of its nuances and unique meaning to each person experiencing difficulties with their mood. There was a great explanation of sitting with sadness; accepting it but not embracing it for too long, and seeking joy in the small things. It is incredibly refreshing to hear two young men in the public eye talk about their feelings with such sincerity.

Whether dripping tears along his Gentleman's Agreement, or "watching mince defrost in real time", John's ability to simultaneously acknowledge the depth of his melancholia and also find the humour that will help him climb out of it is admirable.

By chapter M, Elis in particular had really settled into a much more natural style of narration, and he seemed more at ease with the fictionalised stories and array of voices than I had expected from his less-comfortable early readings. I actually think that he could make a very good audiobook narrator for creative fiction, as his voice is warm and engaging once he relaxes into it. I think that John's style is more suited to non-fiction, in many ways, though he is just as capable of imitating character voices. Whilst undoubtedly the more authoritative of the pair - if only because he will brook no argument when he thinks he is right - I also feel like he could wax lyrical about the most mundane topics and still make them entertaining. He relishes the meticulous details that others might not notice the beauty of, and that enthusiasm for the under-appreciated would suit educational or instructive audio. (After six months of listening to their show, I almost care about my tax returns, so just think how he could revolutionise my life if someone let him read from a book about procrastinating less, or tidying up.)

During Elis' chapter about Wales, I learnt two things: 1) that the Welsh have some fantastic idioms and phrases that translate wonderfully, and 2) that trying to make notes about them from an audiobook by phonetically guessing the spellings sends my phone into such a fit of grammatical apoplexy that it will freeze me out for half an hour. Some of my favourites included the Welsh word for a 'Jay' meaning "scream of the trees", 'butterfly' translating to "little chicken of the summer", and the saying "it's on the knitting needles" meaning that something is 'in progress'.

Much of this A-Z of Elis and John felt like a glorious in-joke geared almost entirely to fans of their radio show in the form of an extended love-letter to the PCDs. But it was thoroughly entertaining despite my relatively recent initiation, and I very much enjoyed getting to know them better.

I'd recommend this audiobook to anyone who has laughed along with the radio shows on XFM or 5Live, especially if you can get it as part of a sale, as I did; a bargain at a mere three pounds quid.
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