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What's On, Comedy

Wizards, Elves, and Being Yourself with Ross Noble

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Andy Hollingworth

Much-loved English stand-up Ross Noble caught up with us recently from his home in Melbourne to discuss the second half of his UK tour of Humournoid. We touched on his 30-year-spanning career in comedy, how the scene has changed since he started, as well as finding out where it all began.

Can you tell us about your upcoming tour,  Humournoid?

It’ll be the second half of the UK tour and, having been rescheduled three times now, it’s nice to be back. I don’t have one of those shows where it’s about anything in particular – it’s just a chance to talk about whatever’s in my head. I’d like to be able to say, ‘come along and I’ll be talking about this or that’ but it changes all the time, so who knows. 

Because of the  improvisational nature of all of your shows, is it  difficult to give it a descriptive tagline?

Completely. That’s why the name of the show is never, ‘Ross Noble talks about…’ because then people would turn up and be confused when that topic never even comes up, so I just give the tours daft names that  don't  really mean anything. 

(c) Andy Hollingworth

So, where did this name come from?

Well,  you've got a  humanoid so  I thought people might think it’s a comedy version of some sort of creature. It looked good on paper but to me now, it just sounds a bit too much like haemorrhoid.

I didn't think that – but it’s what  I’ll remember now!

Well exactly, I’m hoping people will remember the name. You’ve gotta call it something –  I called one show Sonic Waffle because it was just me waffling on. There was another one where someone wrote a bad review of one of my DVDs; it went something like ‘I bought this DVD, but what even is it? It’s just a massive brain dump… he's just dumping everything out of his brain.’ He meant it as a criticism but I thought, ‘hang on a minute, I'm going to call my next tour Brain Dump’. 

The adaptability of your performances must come in useful to accommodate different audiences; are there any bits you’d do in  Melbourne, for example, that you  wouldn't do in  Oxford?

I’ve got a couple of gigs tomorrow in Melbourne which, if I was doing in the UK would probably feature some of the stuff that’s happening with Boris Johnson. I don’t describe myself as a topical comedian but from that, I could get 15-20 mins of material. I couldn't do that here obviously, because no one would know or care.

You’ve been in the industry for a long time; what are the main ways in which you’ve seen the comedy scene shift?

I’ve been doing this since about ’91 or ’92, and there wasn't as much of a clear career structure back then. Stand-ups always used to present game shows, but now they present everything, they’re taking over! People didn’t used to think, ‘I’ll start doing stand-up, do some gigs and then I’ll get on Live at The Apollo.’ There just weren’t these kinds of options when I started. You could fail for longer back then too – now, newer comics have got to absolutely bang-bang-bang right off the mark because so many people are doing it, but when I started you could try things out and have a lot more freedom. Everyone has cameras now, so that adds a lot more pressure.

And, how do you think your comedy has changed?

I think the big one was once I’d had kids. I’d quite happily talk about wizards and elves and what-have-you all day long, but soon as I had kids, I was forced to live in the real world a little bit more. I think the longer you do this, the more you find your voice.

Did you always want to go into comedy?

I wanted to join the circus originally, and then I wanted to be a stunt man. When I was at school, some kids were good at football, some were good at art, but I was always really good at performing. Weirdly, it just seemed like the easiest option for me.

You've explored a few other avenues and your career has taken other paths. Do you think you will ever fully move away from stand-up?

I thought you  were going to ask when I would bite the bullet and retire! No, I will always do stand-up. I was once doing a musical in the West End – which I loved – but even when doing the shows, I would sometimes go and do a midnight gig afterwards because I just really enjoy it; so no, I will never move away from that. What’s happened recently, though, amidst the pandemic, is I was forced to take a break which gave me the time to work on other things. While the pandemic was catastrophic for not being able to go on stage, it forced me to create a load of other stuff which – if it keeps going the way that it’s going – either next year or the year after people will see and be like, ‘where did this come from? It came from Lockdown.

by John McMurtrie

What do you think is your most loveable quality?

Oh god, what is my most loveable quality…? I think being playful. I would say I'm quite playful whether that’s on stage, playing around with ideas or just life in general. I just tend to approach everything playfully.

What are you currently reading, watching, or listening to at the moment?

I’m currently reading The World in Conflict – it’s about understanding the world’s troubled hotspots and it discusses different countries and why they’re at war. I’m watching Succession – isn’t everyone? I’m mostly listening to podcasts, the last one I listened to was The Rewatchables where they go back and look at films that are, well, rewatchable.

www.rossnoble.com

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