He’s appeared umpteen times on Have I Got News For You, played a murderous clown in
He’s appeared umpteen times on Have I Got News For You, played a murderous clown in a horror film and even dated Harold Bishop from Neighbours. With tickets for his upcoming UK tour now on sale, comedian Ross Noble spoke to BEN WILLIAMS
FOR more than 20 years Ross Noble has been the king of spontaneous stand-up, almost constantly touring, and he’s busier now than ever.
It’s been a hectic few days for the Geordie comedy stalwart. He’s hopped off a plane on the other side of the world, driven to deepest darkest Western Australia and has just finished his first gig Down Under. In truth, he’s a little knackered.
“Could you pick out the bits that don’t sound like a madman rambling on at half midnight?” he jokes over the phone from his Aussie hotel room. But, as I discover during our chat, even a jetlagged Ross Noble is on sharp, jolly form.
Over the past two decades Noble’s largely improvised brand of whimsical storytelling has built up a huge, loyal following who are already snapping up tickets for his 55-date Brain Dump tour of the UK this autumn.
Starting at the end of September and finishing a week or so before Christmas, this will see him visit the Wycombe Swan on Wednesday, October 12.
As for the title of his new show, fans will be encouraged to learn of his source of inspiration.
“I got it from a customer review on Amazon for one of my DVDs. They wrote ‘This is just like a massive brain dump” and I thought ‘Oh yeah, that’s exactly what my stuff is! I’ll have that.’ ”
Brain Dump is his 15th tour since he started out in comedy 25 years ago at the age of just 15. But he’s still seen as one of the few performers willing to take a risk.
“The ‘risk’ is all relative,” he says. “It’s like driving a car — after 25 years you don’t get in a car and go, ‘What if this goes wrong?’ If you hit a few bumps in the road you just think ‘Oh, this is fun, let’s bounce around for a bit!’
“Because I’ve built up this really loyal audience, there’s more of a shorthand. When I first started, if I was talking about something a bit leftfield people would go ‘Oh god, where’s he going with this?’ Whereas now that’s what people want — they go “Oh, right! Where’s he going with this!?’ ”
Never afraid to venture a little “out there”, Noble has also developed an acting career — including starring roles in a horror films or two.
“It’s definitely easier for a stand-up to do straight acting than an actor to do comedy,” he says. “In the horror movie Stitches — it sounds mad because I was playing a killer clown — but I wanted to play it as truthfully as possible. I didn’t want people to go ‘Oh, that’s just Noble dressed as a clown.’ I’ve just filmed another horror, and that’s a straight horror film — there are no laughs in it.” Unlikely as that may sound, it doesn’t compare to the time Noble went on a date with Harold Bishop from Neighbours for the Australian ensemble comedy series It’s a Date.
“Oh, the date! That was my idea, so I only have myself to blame. It was a mate of mine’s show — he asked me to write and be in an episode. Afterwards I realised that I could have picked pretty much any Australian actress to date — I could’ve written myself a love scene!
“But when he asked who I wanted to go on a date with, I said: ‘Ian Smith, who plays Harold Bishop.’ We laughed about that for about an hour. But he agreed to it, and then the next thing you know I’m on a set sat opposite him.”
Back home in the UK, Noble is perhaps best known for his regular appearances on Have I Got News For You, where he has clocked up 17 appearances to date. Does he particularly enjoy doing that show?
“I absolutely love it. I was still at school when the show started, so it was a really big deal when I first did it. It’s still the top panel show on telly. Because it’s been on for so long, it’s got a really strong sense of what the show is, it’s become very well defined.”
On one memorable occasion, Noble and team captain Paul Merton got every single question wrong and scored zero points — something that more usually happens on QI.
“We did it on purpose! I’d done the show so many times, so I jokingly said to Paul ‘Why don’t we just see if we can score no points?’
“It’s actually harder than you think, because when an obvious story comes up it’s really hard not to say the answer.
“Charlie Brooker was on the other team and at the end he said ‘I can’t believe we won!’ and Paul went ‘Well, we can!’ ”
Noble’s other TV and radio credits include The Graham Norton Show and Room 101 (both BBC One) and Just a Minute (Radio 4).
In 2007 he was ranked number 10 in Channel 4’s poll of the 100 Greatest Stand-Ups, but when they revisited the poll in 2010 he had been bumped to number 11. What happened?
“Ricky Gervais,” he deadpans. “When they did the first programme, he hadn’t done stand-up. By 2010 he’d started, so he was put in the top 10, which pushed me to 11. Which is fair enough — it was voted by the public and he’s popular. There are probably 10 or 15 acts that nobody knew in 2007 and are now enormous, so if they do another one I’ll probably end up at 25!”
Not that he really minds, of course.
“I don’t care, to be honest. It’s like those 100 sexiest men or women lists — it’s never won by someone who works in a chip shop in Loughborough. So I take all those things with a pinch of salt.”
Noble has a famously loyal fanbase, some of whom see his show multiple times and leave gifts for him on stage. Is that something he enjoys? “Ninety-nine percent of the time it’s very sweet and very flattering. Every now and then you get one where you go ‘Okaaaay... that’s a little bit scary.’
What’s been the scariest?
“I was in New Zealand once, and I was on my phone to my wife. I put the phone down and it rang again. I thought it was her ringing back, so I went ‘Hi!’ and this voice said ‘Hello.’ It was a complete stranger who had rung every hotel in Auckland pretending to be my girlfriend. That was a bit terrifying.
“The thing is, someone being a fan is very flattering, but there’s a big difference between somebody liking your comedy and someone wanting to wear your skin as a suit.”
• Brain Dump is recommended for ages 15 and up. Tickets for the Wycombe Swan show on October 12 are priced £25 (booking fees apply). For more information or to book, visit www.wycombeswan.co.uk or call 01494 512000. A full list of tour dates is available at www.rossnoble.co.uk