With a live DVD of his last tour, Things, due out on 29th November and another tour, Nonsensory Overload, currently well into its run, Ross Noble is as busy as ever. One of the UK’s most talented and unique live acts, he’s perhaps most famous for the rambling stream of consciousness that marks him out as different from almost any other comedian on the circuit right now.
I caught up with him before he performed the third of five nights at the Newcastle City Hall.
You’re right in the midst of your current UK tour. It’s Newcastle tonight, how’s it going compared with other years?
Great. I mean Newcastle’s always a winner. It’s a 2,000 seater concert hall and its ram-packed every night.
You’ve not gone down the arena route this time round, then?
That suggestion was put around. I could have knocked it all out and had it done in ten nights in arenas around the UK instead of doing the hefty chunk of dates I’m doing on the tour. I think the arena thing has kind of been done now, though, and there’s a danger that it all starts to become about selling as many tickets in as short a time as possible rather than going out on tour.
It’s tricky, as when I did an arena tour in Australia it was in the round, so that made it a bit more intimate than your usual arena thing. I know some people really like doing them, while you’ll get others who are doing it to basically try and make as much money as possible. I think if you’re touring across the US or Australia it’s a bit different, and I can see the point in that, but I prefer a long tour.
How many dates are you covering on this tour?
The last one was 180, but this one is around 80, so it’s nothing really. I’m covering the UK only at the moment, then I’ll do Australia at the end of next year.
The DVD of your last tour, Things, is a really great watch. It’s obvious from viewing that that your seem to love being on tour more than anything else…
Definitely. That’s where I’m having the most fun and my career, much to the annoyance of others, has always been guided more by how much fun I’m having than anything else.
Compared with many other comics I’ve seen live, you seem to get into your stride right away. How do you manage to do that on stage?
[Laughs] Well it depends on what night you see me. Usually, as I do stuff with the audience, I don’t have that added pressure of having a pre-planned idea of how a show will start. Comedians that do that go out and hope that the audience gets into it early on, but I never have any idea of how my show is going to start, so it’s not really a problem. I literally go on stage and say the first thing that comes into my head.
I’ve always marvelled at comics who go out and say their first line, as I’ve never been able to do that. I go out, look at the audience and say something related to them or just anything to amuse myself really.
Have you always performed in that way?
No, I went through a very weird stage of pretending to be what I thought an audience would expect of a comedian.
When I first started out, I used to do a street show with a mate where we did a juggling act. We’d try to slowly draw the audience in by going out to them, so we’d just start, talk to the audience and make a crowd form from there. When I then moved on to stand-up, I was trying so hard to be something else. I actually tried to be a bit like Jack Dee, wearing the suit and being what I thought people wanted to see.
Over time, I tried to do loads of different things and none of them worked. In the end, I made a conscious decision that I wouldn’t bother with a particular voice or anything like that and as soon as I stopped trying so hard and just be myself, other comics began to point out certain acts that were influenced by me. It was only then that I realised I actually had a style.
And audience interaction is a huge part of your act. The first half of the DVD in particular is based on audience participation. Have you ever found that the interaction has turned into audience heckling, as I guess it’s a fine line between letting the audience in and them trying to take over the show…
Now and again you’ll get an audience that gets out of hand but there again that’s part of fun of it, you know? You can just look at it and think to yourself, “this has all kicked off”. The only annoying times are when you get people shouting stuff out that’s just shit. If someone shouts something that adds to the show than that’s great, obviously. Other times when you get people who interrupt you, that’s annoying, but it very rarely happens, and even if it gets out of control and crazy, then that’s just a new level for the show.
You’re very generous in your audience interaction – you don’t just mercilessly take the mick like other acts do…
Definitely, because I don’t want anyone to be sitting there thinking, “He’s gonna pick on me”. I want them to think that I might talk to them and involve them in the show or use something they say as part of the show and I want people to get involved.
I’m not about belittling people, as I’m also quite self-deprecating myself. If I’m talking about something and say something which is clearly not thought through, I’m the first one to take the piss out of myself. I hate that idea that it’s ‘them and us’, that it’s some sort of aggressive thing. I want people to come to a gig and feel like they are taking it all in and are part of something rather than being excluded from the joke.
Back to the DVD. How do you choose which live show goes on to DVD? How many shows did you film for that?
We filmed two or three nights and we included one full show for the DVD and stuff from other nights for the extras.
How involved in the DVD editing do you get? Although, from watching this, I get the impression it wasn’t edited down that much, as you get a real live feel from your DVD performance?
Yeah, you’re right. This wasn’t edited at all, which is why it’s a long DVD performance.
I absolutely love DVDs, so I consciously get highly involved with it all – I want to put effort into it. It’s like with the warning notice at the beginning [The DVD has a lengthy warning prose, written by Noble himself.]
I love things like that. Some might not be into what I do, but no one can criticise my DVDs for the effort I put in. There are always loads of discs, commentaries, extras etc. Some might just want to bang a DVD out for Christmas as a money-spinner, but I want to avoid doing them just for the money.
A few years ago, my first DVD release was edited – we took out about ten minutes of bits and bobs – but all my recent DVDs have been completely unedited. Some comedians will use routines from different nights, but you can’t really do that with my gigs.
So this is the concert at Manchester in its entirety, and filmed on the one night. You still get that live experience by doing that, I think. Sometimes, when people record a DVD, they tighten the show up and get to point where it’s scripted to within an inch of its life.
Thing is, with my way of doing it, if you mess up then you throw away a lot of money. I did that once. It was for my Fizzy Logic DVD. I had a full film crew, a crane and all that and I was at the Brixton Academy. When I walked off stage I just thought, “that was shit”, so I said we should bin it, and that cost a lot of money.
I’m in a position to do that, though, as I have my own production company. Some comedians will sign a deal, doing it the way a record company would want you to, but I don’t have that, as I have a licensing agreement with Universal, so they distribute my DVDs. But, ultimately, I’m fronting my own money for it.
There’s a great extra on the DVD which sees you putting on a bubblewrap suit given to you by an audience member, Is that still the best gift you’ve received?
It’s up there. That was pretty involved. This tour, though, I’m getting quite a lot of good stuff. For example, a lot have come from a joke I made on QI about a Toblerone-Rolo combo. Every single night of this tour, someone from the audience has put a Toblerone on stage, so we’ve all been gorging after the show.
Talking of TV, I know you prefer touring, but are shows like Have I Got News For You important for up-and-coming comedians today do you think? Or is touring still at the heart of comedy?
It’s still a valid route, of course it is. It’s horses for courses, though, isn’t it? There’s nothing wrong with television.
It’s an odd thing that’s happening with comedy at the moment. It’s completely exploded, which is odd for me as I’ve been touring for years, and now all of sudden you’ve got theatres full of comics overnight.
At any one time when I started out touring, there would be, at most, five other acts touring too. Now there are like 70-plus acts touring arts centres and other venues. There are more live touring acts now than at any other time I can remember.
Have you ever had any really inappropriate TV pitches suggested to you? Like Ross Noble presents Britain’s Hardest Men?
All the time! On an almost a daily basis something utterly and totally ridiculous will be offered to me that you just end up going, “oh you’re kidding”. The latest I was offered was to do with “learning to become a monster truck driver” where I’d have to learn how to drive a monster truck and then compete against other ‘celebrities’. I was half-tempted for a laugh and then you remember that it will actually be on television.
Half the fun of watching shows that you turn down is seeing who actually does it. I was offered to go to Thailand and have a coffee enema [Celebrity Detox Camp]. Richard Blackwood got that, and there’s a lesson to us all.
Finally, many reviews of your work seem to fixate on your appearance. I read one online, for example, which described you as a ‘hairy, demonic scarecrow’. Bit harsh isn’t it?
To be honest, that is one of the best descriptions I’ve ever hard of me. I would go to say I that might be the name of the next tour. That is a perfect description of me.
Ross Noble, hairy, demonic scarecrow, thanks very much!
Ross Noble’s Things DVD will be available from 29 November.
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