Depending on the kind of laugh you’re after, there is a comedian out there that is right for you. If you want to sit in stitches whilst watching someone on stage flit from idea to idea like a ping-pong match, then Ross Noble is the comedian for you. KAREN LOWE spoke to him about his new show Humournoid, the best ways to keep one’s spirits up whilst on tour, and an exciting game of ‘Knock and Run’ at 10 Downing Street.
You are in the middle of a massive tour of Australia and heading over to WA for a run of shows in August. How have the shows been going so far? And where are you looking forward to performing the most over here?
Ooh blimey. It’s been great so far. I’ve had a little bit of a break. I always say that stand-up is a bit like with boxers – they’ve got to be match-fit so I’ve had a bit of time off. Western Australia’s always a great crowd. There’s a huge amount of expats from my hometown so there’s that element to the audience as well. In terms of places I’m looking forward to play at, Perth’s great but we’re also going to be travelling north and we are driving the whole thing. That kind of Northern Western Australia – I love the desert and all that – just the huge expanse that’s out there. You get that real sense of space and that’s really good for the shows because it opens up your head.
Being on tour can be tough on mental health and general well-being. Do you have any strategies to keep your spirits up?
Some comics travel on their own but I’ve got a crew because I’ve got a big set that we travel with. If you’re on your own, sometimes the only time you’ll speak to another human being is when you’re on stage. If we’ve got days off or time before the shows, just try and find fun things to do like those little electric scooters. I sometimes take a push bike with me and I go cycling. I do a lot of that in Perth. Last time, I rode down to Fremantle from Perth and back again. I was watching Ninja Warrior the other day and apparently, there’s a ninja training facility in Perth. I might try and drag the crew down there. There’s also that pub that’s got the indoor golf course, segway scooters, rock climbing… basically, we’re like a bunch of kids that just go and play. I know some people have got mental health issues and nowadays, people are all about practising mindfulness but I just find fun things. There’s this idea that comedians are prone to depression and all the rest of it. The fact is, it doesn’t matter who you are. It’s just more noticeable I think because a comedian’s job is to make people laugh but I’m not prone to it me-self. There’s this great story about this guy sitting in a bar in London across the road from a theatre where Grimaldi was playing and he’s all depressed. The bartender says to him, “If you want cheering up, you should go over the road and see Grimaldi – the greatest clown that ever lived.” The guy goes, “I am Grimaldi.”
Your new show is called Humournoid. What can people expect for this show?
The thing is, my shows don’t have a theme. It’s become very fashionable nowadays for the shows to be a narrative to explore but I get bored really quickly and I like to play around about ideas so it’s not really about anything but it’s about everything. Basically, it’s all the stuff that’s in my head. I improvise a lot and talk to the audience so that element of the show’s constantly flowing. What people can expect is to come along and see a show that is about people being together, in a room on that night and stuff happening. Anyone that’s seen me before will be like “Ahh! So that’s what it is!”
You are known for your ‘ADHD’ style of comedy where you go off on seemingly random tangents and can leave the audience almost stunned with the different directions your brain takes, yet you always wrap everything up. How do you keep up with all those different tangents?
You know, that’s just the way that my head works. It’s this strange thing where when people watch it – there’s all these ideas where things are firing around and one of those things that as a stand-up performance – people will go “Wow that’s an amazing thing! How do you do that?” but basically, that’s how my head works. The downside of that is, that doesn’t help with any other part of your life. When I was a kid, I just spent my whole childhood with people telling me, “you have to stop thinking like this. You have to stop behaving like this. All of these things that you are doing is not going to help you later in life.” Then when I discovered stand-up, it turns out that that works really well for what I’m doing so in many ways, people are watching someone deal with their own shortcomings.
Where have been some of the stranger places that you have found yourself performing?
I’ve done some weird gigs. I’ve played a rave once where there was a small stage in the chill-out room where there were unconscious people and a bucking broncho right next to us. I’ve done a hayshed, gigs on boats. In the early days, I pretty much played everywhere. In terms of fancy places, oh aye! Just before Gordon Brown was Prime Minister, I got invited to Downing Street. There were comics, actors and bands – not to perform but I thought “ooh wouldn’t mind having a look down there,” and there is the door to 10 Downing Street, the most famous front door in Britain, but normally, you can’t get in there because the whole street is fenced off – anti-terrorist business down there. We come out of No. 11 Downing Street and I turned to me mate… there’s no copper on the door. You know that game you play as a kid where you knock on the door and run? Well doing that at Downing Street is the ultimate knock and run so I’m like “right, I’m having this.” I knock on the door and start running down the street. I realise I haven’t thought it through cos there’s this security thing at the bottom so I’m running down there and all I see is this policeman with a machine gun. As I’m running towards him, we made eye contact and he stepped to one side laughing and said “well done”.
As a comedian, one of the greatest fears would have to be walking out on stage and no one laughing. Have you ever had moments like that? And if so, how do you deal with it?
You say “as a comedian” whereas I would say as a non-comedian that would be your fear. As a comedian, you don’t have that fear because it’s one of those things, right? Nobody laughing – there would be a reason they’re not laughing and that reason would either be something you’ve got nothing to do with like something horrible has happened in the room and they’re not laughing because of that. You would then make a joke about that situation to get people laughing while acknowledging what’s happening. I once had somebody who had an epileptic fit during one of my shows. People stopped laughing and I had to try to get them laughing again but at the same time, remain respectful to the guy that had the fit. Equally, they’re not laughing because of something you’ve done. If that’s the case, if you’ve done something that they think isn’t funny, you’ve got to move on and do something to make them laugh. It’s that simple really.
As a punter, I have always wondered how the comedian’s family reacts at being on the receiving end of the jokes. Do you clear the jokes with your family first or have you found yourself outside with the dog?
It’s all about your attitude really. Some comics go out there and are like “ah my wife – she’s this, that or the other” or “I hate my kids” and you just go right, we’re leaving then if that’s your attitude. If I talk about my family, it’s not mean or it’s not embarrassing so they tend to be alright with it. To be honest with you, my wife will probably come and see me once a year so it’s not like she’s sat at the back of every show. She has no idea what the show is and only comes and sees me when I play up the road so it doesn’t really affect her.