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Freestyle funny-man

Trudie Robinson catches up with comic Russell Howard on his adventures

Published on March 10th 2008.

Freestyle funny-man

Since his appearance in the final of the BBC New Comedy Award back in 2001 with his imaginative off-the-wall routine about a sandwich, Russell Howard has demonstrated a keen and innovative comic mind.

His latest show ‘Adventures’ is no exception. Taking the title literally, Howard is planning on embarking on an experience in each town he visits. “I’ve put a load of messages on My Space asking for things to do and places to go in all the towns where I’m playing. Then, whatever happens in a particular town, I will weave that into the show. The plan is to do lots of weird and wonderful things all over the country. It’s so much more authentic than doing a lot of routines beginning ‘imagine if ...’ It also means that every single gig will be unique,” explains Howard with enthusiasm.

Before a gig, some comics might settle for watching a film or a spot of shopping in the no man’s land of time spent in a strange town. Not Howard. He’s already embarked on some of the weird activities of the like he’s requesting people notify him about. Some not far from his native Bristol, “The Heavy Horse Centre in Wimborne Minster. It’s a rehab centre for fat ponies, and I’m ashamed to say we were gawping at these sad-eyed beasts with pot bellies. We expected to see horses with chocolate smeared all over their hooves, sighing ‘I can’t help it – I comfort eat!’ I talked about it at the gig that night and it was really well-received” he said.

As it transpires, Howard doesn’t seem to need to look too far for real life sources of bizarre stories. Along with a loveable stage persona and frank nature, it’s what’s plucked him from obscurity and into adulation as the tour venues get bigger and the TV appearances increase in number. Can’t be said that he hasn’t put the work in over the years though; he’s constantly looking to keep the sandwich fresh and some of that inspiration is received when he’s on stage.

“I did a gig in Telford recently. The moment I came on stage, someone in the audience shouted out, ‘Russell, do you want some cheese?’, and we were off. We explored why he had brought cheese along to the gig and why he thought this was the right moment to offer me some. I adore that feeling of just seeing where a riff takes you. I find people fascinating, so if someone shouts something out, I don’t just put them down and move on. That seems rubbish to me. I don’t want to simply hammer out the same show every night and then go back to the hotel and get drunk. I love just going with the flow.”

It’s surprising he still finds the time to maintain the stand up given the amount of TV and radio work he’s getting. The latest comic talent to be plucked from the comedy clubs, he fronts a BBC6 radio show, is a regular on BBC2’s Mock the Week and has appeared on Never Mind the Buzzcocks.

It’s all been a bit overwhelming for the boy from the West Country. “It’s been mind-blowing. You have to pinch yourself when you find yourself doing shows with great people like Dara O’Briain and Armando Iannucci.” For someone so devoted to his stand up it’s only apt that he should appear on TV doing that too, and that too has proved a bit much for young Howard.

“I never banked on doing a gig like that, I couldn’t believe it – on the afternoon before the show, Jack Dee came up and asked me, ‘feeling alright?’ I felt like I was going back to my childhood, looking at Jack’s DVDs in HMV and thinking, ‘I can’t afford that – I’ll have to get a paper round!’ I became a spluttering child once again.”

And the gig itself was pretty impressive too. “It’s an extraordinary feeling to hear 3000 people laughing at your jokes,” recalls Howard of the experience. “The waves of laughter just hit you. You feel you’re orchestrating the whole thing – it’s like an out of body experience. A joke explodes in front of you and rolls back across the stalls, and you stand there just thinking, ‘wow!’”

But whatever happens to him he’s sure to keep his feet firmly grounded, thanks to his mum. “I still find it really odd to go and perform somewhere like Darlington and have people coming to me and saying, ‘thanks for coming’. When I get back home, I say to my mum, ‘show me some respect – they love me in Darlington’, and she replies, ‘stop being such an idiot!’”

Russell Howard is at the Lowry on Wed 12 and Fri 14 March.

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