Ross Noble interview: Richard Briers, heroin, Chas & Dave

Simon sits down with comedian Ross Noble for a chat about comedy, his new DVD, films, music, and, um, Snooker Loopy...

We’ve interviewed Ross Noble on more than one occasion for Den of Geek, and the last time we met, he brought up a review of a DVD we did a few years’ back for one of his DVDs. Our review copy of said DVD had no extras, which we duly reported.

Given that Ross Noble DVDs have a wealth of extra features that would put that fancy Harry Potter boxset to shame, it’s a wrong we’re happy to right here. In the words of the man himself, “it’s just quite funny that my DVDs have got more extras than anybody else’s! The thing is somebody could write, ‘this DVD is absolute cack. This show isn’t funny, and I hate Ross Noble’. And I’d just look at it and go whatever, I don’t care. Because it’s opinion. But when it’s factually, that’s different!”

That sorted, on we went with the interview, to help promote Ross Noble’s extra-laden DVD release, Mindblender, which is on sale now…

If I had to pick a moment of utter empathy in your new show, it’s when you do a joke about the film Looper, then look around, and you get the damning realistion that about a fifth of your audience has got the reference. I’m guessing that happens quite a lot…?

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Well what I try and do, and what I quite like, is putting references into the show that huge amounts of people don’t get, but the people who do get them really appreciate them.

How obscure have you gone? Because Looper‘s fairly mainstream, isn’t it?

It’s massively mainstream, it’s just nobody saw it! How obscure? Hugely, to the point where sometimes… there was one night and I finished a gig, and my mate was in. He came backstage, and he went ‘you know when you said that thing about that thing, was that a reference to that thing?’. And I went yeah! So one person got it!

The show’s absolutely peppered with things that might be references to films. One of my favourite gigs I ever did was I did a show once where Christopher Lloyd turned up, and I’m an enormous Back To The Future fan. So I was putting loads of Back To The Future references in, none of which he got!

Tell me that was in Newcastle! That Christopher Lloyd just happened to walk into a gig there!

No! It was actually in New Zealand.

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That’s just as far from where he lives!

The thing is, when you play New Zealand, there are so many people working down there, that everyone’s bored out of their minds. Once it gets dark, you can’t bungee jump anymore, and so they say ‘we’ll go and see that’. But I quite like that.

There’s the Patrick Swayze-Ghost bit, too. I quite like the fact that a lot of the people who saw Looper probably didn’t get the Patrick Swayze stuff. But that’s just the joy of it. What I like as well is putting things in that are pop culture references that aren’t… the obvious things to do is to make references that everyone gets, that unifies everyone. But I prefer it the other way.

You did Tweet at us once with indignance about a story regarding a proposed remake of Maniac Cop [the remake has apparently since been dropped]…

[Laughs] Yeah, but it turned out to be Maniac though, didn’t it?

Maniac Cop was in the mix too. I might be mixing my Maniacs up…

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There was Maniac. But if they were remaking Maniac Cop, that’s a bit sad.

RoboCop remains the divisive remake at the moment. Are you fairly calm on that one?

Yeah. It’s one of those things that I’m not up in arms that it’s getting remade, I’m just annoyed that I’m not in it! It’s like Mad Max, you know? If ever there was a film that could have used a random long-haired Geordie bloke riding a motorbike – I don’t even have to speak, I could just have a bearskin on…!

Once upon a time, they were talking about doing a fifth alongside the upcoming fourth, there may still be time…

Yeah. They were going to make it in Silverton where they made the second one. And it rained, so they had to go to Namibia. I was actually in Namibia while they were filming it.

And there was no temptation to take a look, and go and wander into the back of a shot? They filmed it out in the open, on location!

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I was in a different bit of Namibia! I was very good, because I would happily be an extra.

Are you pushing more movie stuff then?

No. I loved doing Stitches, and I do want to do some more. But it’s one of those things where I’ll only do stuff… there are some people who go I just want to be in movies. I’m not like that. It’s like people who want to be on telly, or want to be famous. Me, I take everything on a case by case basis.

If somebody came along and said we’re going to give you the lead in a romantic comedy, and there’s some sort of wedding involved in it, I’d say no. If it was some sort of knockabout… hang on, I’ll say that now. I reserve the right to completely go back on this. But what I mean is if somebody came along and said we’re doing this, do you want to be in it, I wouldn’t just go that’s brilliant, that’s a film, I’ll do it. That’s not what I’m about.

But if someone came along and said we’ve got a film about an Amish boy who falls in love with an android, I’d go yeah, alright.

What about the Harry Hill approach? He’s doing The Harry Hill Movie, of course…

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Well again, I’m a massive Harry Hill fan. But that’s one of those things where you’re putting yourself into a film. And again, that doesn’t really interest me. I think it’s a brilliant thing that he’s done. For me, though, it’s like Stitches. If it involves prosthetics, and special effects, and it looks like it’s fun, then I’ll do it. I don’t just want to do anything.

You should do a Chas & Dave biopic. You were Tweeting about them just the other day.

I was, yeah!

I trust you’re a Snooker Loopy man?

[Laughs, and seems very pleased with this particular question] Yeah!

Premium Chas & Dave?

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Very much so. Whenever’s there’s a question – and I always get really angry – when they say name all the snooker balls, and they don’t know…

You just sing the song?

Of course you do! [Sings] Pot the red then screw back for the yellow, green, brown, blue, pink and black…

[At this stage, it would be fair to say that the PR rep who was sat with us was looking just a little baffled. This led to a brief chat between the three of us where said PR rep had Chas & Dave’s genius explained to her, ending with – we do not make this up – ourselves and Ross Noble singing Snooker Loopy at her. We have a recording of this, but it would clearly require a £2m donation to Children In Need or something for us to release it].

But then weirdly, when they made Big Break, Snooker Loopy surely should have been the theme tune. But instead they went with [Mr Noble starts singing again, very much warming to the theme] ‘it’s only a game so, put a real good fight, I’m gonna be snookering you tonight…’ [Mr Noble stops singing]. Which was from – do you know where that’s from?

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Here we go! The geek has been challenged! That was from a musical called The Hunting Of The Snark, which was written by Mike Batt of Wombles fame.

I couldn’t believe it because I was watching the Royal Variety, and Danny Baker was Tweeting about it. And he said that if there is a God, with his omnipotence, spare him a thought because somewhere, he has to sit through the Royal Variety. And then I Tweeted basically saying ‘Chas & Dave!’. Because they were the closing act. The headline of the Royal Variety. Then you’ve got Gary Barlow, Robbie Williams…

You should get Chas & Dave to do the opening to your act then?

Well, in fact…

Ah, here comes my exclusive…

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No, no. I was going to say Cockneys Vs Zombies, the closing song of that, which is phenomenal, that’s worth looking at. [Mr Noble sings again].

That was a great role for Richard Briers too.

His last film, yeah.

It wasn’t his last film. Run For Your Wife was his last film.

Oh no! What a horrible…. you know what, now you mention that I have to go and get that on DVD.

What, Run For Your Wife? Do you have a Richard Briers completist shelf or something?

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There’s a story… I accidentally might have led…. thanks to me, Nicholas Parsons, for a short time, was under the impression that Richard Briers was a heroin addict.

[Den Of Geek would obviously like to make clear at this point that Richard Briers was never a heroin addict. Just to be clear. Ahem.]

What it was, I was supposed to introduce Blazing Saddles. It was a thing in Edinburgh where comedians were introducing movies. So you had to introduce the film, and Nicholas was going to do The Lavender Hill Mob, and I was going to do Blazing Saddles.

One of my favourite facts about Blazing Saddles is that originally, Mel Brooks worked with Richard Pryor on the script. It was Richard Pryor’s idea to come up with the black sheriff, which he was going to play. And the reason he didn’t play him was the studio got cold feet, because at the time, he was a heroin addict. And I explained that to Nicholas, and he went “I did not know that about Richard”. And I’d told him all this stuff about Richard Pryor, and he thought I said Richard Briers.

So here’s the thing. One, Richard Briers didn’t grow up in a brothel. Two, didn’t write Blazing Saddles. Thirdly, why would he be playing a black sheriff?!

You left Nicholas Parsons with the impression that Richard Briers was a heroin addict?

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I felt terrible.

How long before you corrected him?

Well, I didn’t.

You’ve not corrected him?

Somebody must have done!

For your Richard Briers completist shelf, do you have Kenneth Branagh’s In The Bleak Midwinter?

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It’s not easy to get hold of, but Branagh basically did the film before he made his screen version of Hamlet. And it’s a movie about a bunch of luvvies put on a production of Hamlet on Christmas Eve. He basically gets his mates, and writes a film around them. And I’m convinced it’s Richard Briers’ best performance.

[Our lookback at In The Bleak Midwinter is here]

Really? Better than ‘Blind Man’ in Frankenstein?! Because that’s the other thing. If you were playing Pointless, name one of Robert De Niro’s co-stars!

[At this point, somehow, our conversation moved back to Chas & Dave, and how Mr Noble should use them as his support act]

I’ve never had a support act. But I did some shows in London. And there was this band who are phenomenal. They’re called Oompah Brass, and I was playing their stuff before the show. They’re an oompah band who do rock covers, and they’re phenomenal. And people were loving it. And then what started to happen was so many people were Tweeting about them, they were selling loads of albums.

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So I said let’s get a box of their CDs and sell them at the gig. And we sold out. I was doing three nights at Hammersmith, and they said can come down on one of the nights. They came down on the first night, in full lederhosen, so they did that. And they ended up doing three nights at the Hammersmith Apollo!

Were you joining in by the end?

No, no. The problem with going out on stage with them was the first night – and I didn’t realise this – the stage was covered in gob. It all comes out the end of their trumpets. And I was like what is this? I looked down and they’d gobbed everywhere!

A quick yes or no question, just to clear up any doubt. Are there any extras on your DVD this time?

Yes. [Laughs]

You round off this show with answers from the audience, and the look of disappointment on your face when you’re asked ‘what’s your favourite reality TV show’ was palpable!

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Yeah. It’s just acting though!

I get that. But it got me wondering, what are the best questions you get asked in that segment?

Weirdly, sometimes what you get is people picking up on logic. I really like that, it really makes me laugh. They’ll say ‘you know you were talking about making a larger Hadron Collider or something, and you were talking about selling them… wouldn’t that…’ and then they tell me why that wouldn’t work. And I love it. I love that you can build up this stack of logic, build a world, and somebody goes but hang on… And then you’re like, if you’re going to start with that, then that would go, that would go… The whole thing is based on stretching logic. So that happens quite a lot.

It’s like when someone goes to see a film like Pacific Rim, something like that…

Did you like that?

I did actually. But he [Guillermo del Toro] can sort of do no wrong in my eyes. But you watch something like that, and you go ‘why did they need to be inside the thing? They’ve got the technology, why couldn’t they just stay at the base, have helmets on and do all that?’

You could understand with the mark one stuff though. The first generation versions. The later versions, granted.

The other thing is as well… it’s the thing that annoyed me about that film and it annoyed me about Prometheus, and it annoyed me about Contact… there’s a thing, and I might even make this is a short film… you know when they’ve got the helmets on with the glass, and their faces are lit up inside by the LEDs? I want somebody to do a sketch where they land on a planet, and one of them asks ‘why are there lights on our face?! I can’t see anything!’

And that’s the main thing that annoys you about Prometheus?!

Ah, but that’s what I mean. I love that you can buy into the massive picture, but it’s that little thing…

Final question then: your favourite Jason Statham movie?

For high concept…

Ha, based on those three words, I’m guessing it’s Crank then.

Yeah, Crank.

You could see that one coming! Ross Noble, thank you very much!

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