Here, he talks to journalist James Mottram about the upcoming tour….
Comedian Ross Noble is explaining the backdrop for his latest must-see, stand-up show, Humournoid. “Imagine a huge version of my head that splits in half,” he enthuses, “and then wires are stretched between the two halves and you can see all the circuit boards inside and the LEDs flashing.”
It’s the perfect curtain-raiser. “I thought it would be cool to walk out at the beginning of the show through a massive version of my head.”
Throughout a celebrated award-winning comedy career, Noble has often favoured something more elaborate than a stool and a microphone stand when it comes to stage settings. “All of my sets are basically Spinal Tap-like,” he says, referring to the fictional heavy metal band that once leapt out on stage to a miniature version of Stonehenge. “You create something that looks like it should be at Wembley Stadium…but then you come out and it’s just a bloke talking b****s for two hours!”
The latest set, peaking inside Noble’s lightning-quick mind, seems entirely apt for his surreal and spontaneous approach to stand-up.
“People used to say, ‘What’s your show about?’ And it’s only in the last few months that I’ve realised it’s basically an invitation to see the world through my eyes. It took me years to realise that. I always thought ‘My shows aren’t really about anything’ but they sort of are. They’re about what I think about things.”
This might account for why Noble has called his new show Humournoid. He began thinking of himself as “a comedy version of an android…like some sort of comedy experiment, some sort of Frankenstein’s monster”. He arrived at ‘Humournoid’, a mix of humour and humanoid. Only later did it strike him the word had other connotations. “When you say it out loud, it sounds like ‘haemorrhoid’! I’ve got this idea that people will turn up to the show with creams, lotions, and donut-shaped cushions. In one way I over- thought it, and then also didn’t think it through! Which perfectly describes what I do.”
Of course, the pandemic-related difficulties of 2020 and 2021, which saw Noble’s show postponed on more than one occasion, has given the comedian new fuel for his show, a wild stream-of-conscious that relies on both his own worldview and audience input. Living in Melbourne with his family, it’s also been three years since he toured the UK with his El Hablador set. “I’m looking forward to getting back in front of a British audience,” he says. “I’m just interested to see where everybody’s head is at.”
Noble feels that more than most, stand-up comedians were equipped to cope with the lockdowns and quarantines that everyone had to endure. “You don’t have to leave the house, you doss around, you haven’t got a boss, you’re working from home, and then you go out for an hour. That’s been my life for the last 30 years! For me the pandemic was the same as my life normally is…except I just didn’t do a gig in the evening. That was the only difference.”
Fortunately for Noble, he was able to tour Australia when theatres re-opened Down Under, with a show called The 2021 Comeback Special. “I thought it would be funny to do a comeback special when everyone in the world has been away!” He even travelled to Sydney to shoot a TV show, though had to undertake a two-week quarantine, which also felt familiar. “Two weeks locked in a hotel was exactly the same as doing a tour…but at the end of the night, you go, ‘Oh, I’ll just have some dinner.’”
All this global strangeness has left the 45-year-old Noble “chomping at the bit” to get back to doing what he does best.
Concluding next February at the London Palladium, Humournoid also includes three nights in his native Newcastle, where he studied performing arts at Newcastle College. Noble left the city when he was 17 just as he was beginning to find work on the comedy circuit – but returning there always feels like a homecoming. “There’s always that energy and excitement,” he says. “There’s always that little spark there – you’re guaranteed people are up for it.”
Audiences might also find a different Ross Noble to the one they’re used to.
In the past few years, he’s acted in West End productions of two iconic Mel Brooks shows, The Producers (2015) and Young Frankenstein (2018), which saw him nominated for an Olivier award.
“I love musicals anyway but getting to work with Mel Brooks was the greatest thing you could possibly imagine,” he says. “And doing something that is so precise. Every single night. Eight shows a week. You get everything to a point where it’s like a Swiss watch. So I loved doing that.”
It was also the chance to try a very different artistic discipline to comedy, one that requires intense collaboration.
“Obviously the brilliant thing with stand-up…you’re the writer, director and star. You think of an idea, it comes into your head, you say it and you do it. There’s no committee. And if you fail, it’s all on you. But then if you succeed, it’s also entirely on you. That’s what I’ve always loved about stand-up. That’s not just because I’m a complete raging megalomaniac!”
Still, the pandemic gave him pause for thought. “Not only did every theatre in the world close…it was against the law to do the thing that I’ve devoted 30 years of my life doing! I was literally going, ‘What am I going to do?’”
He’s hardly the only one in the comedy field who felt the pinch. “It’ll be interesting to see, this Christmas, how many comedians release books” he chuckles. “There’s going to be so many children’s stories and autobiographies. An embarrassment of riches.”
Rather than this, Noble decided to try his hand at screenwriting. “I love doing stand-up. I’ve always loved doing stand- up. But I’ve always had 50 ideas in my head at once.”
Turning some of those into script ideas, Noble now has a couple of projects in development, which he hopes will be put into production next year. As he gets ready to head out back on stage, inviting audiences into his mind once more, he’s delighted by this new direction his work has taken him.
“Creatively,” he says, “it’s been the best time of my career.”
l Tickets for the Peterborough show are available online at www.newtheatre-peterborough.com