Saturday, 18 January 2020

Erudite Essex comic is an outsider looking in

Erudite Essex comic is an outsider looking in

RUSSELL Kane is more than just a stand-up. He’s like a comedy David Attenborough who, instead of the animal kingdom, focuses his attention on the way blokes from the South East behave.

Raised in Essex, he was a bookish wallflower in a world of geezers. “I was a weedy boy at school and my dad was a rugby player,” he laughs.

Now the star of TV shows like Stupid Man, Smart Phone and Live at the Electric, he dissects blokeish behaviour on stage with invariably hilarious results.

“I find it easy to pick apart a certain kind of masculinity,” he says. “The way they talk, the way they behave in public, the ways they compete with each other and the ways they try to interact with women.”

Despite being a bit of an oddity growing up, there is a part of Kane’s psyche that is classic Essex.

“Books are my thing,” he says, “but the second I saw Ibiza Rocks are having a comedian in residence this summer, I was like, ‘I’d love to get out there and have it in Ibiza.’ And my wife’s like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’”

It’s all part of the Russell Kane contradiction. “I love curries, I love pints with the lads, I like BMWs — I’m a weird mess.”

That feeds into his fascination with class — not in a ranty political way, but on a more anthropological level. He’s a brilliant chronicler of how British people from different backgrounds look at each other. And he’s amazed by how little class is talked about as a subject, particularly by comedians.

“People just don’t want to analyse the prejudice that’s out there,” he says. “And the weird thing is it’s the number one predictor. Doesn’t matter what gender you are or how able-bodied you are. The socio-economic background of your parents is the number one predictor of where you’ll end up in life.”

Class explains the way some snootier people react to Kane — if he talked like Stephen Fry or Miles Jupp, he’d probably be taken a lot more seriously. But the juxtaposition of big ideas and polysyllabic language with an estuary accent means he can sometimes get wrongly labelled as a show-off or a faker. “If a comedian with my type of accent dares to use a long word, it’s seen as display rather than intrinsic knowledge coming to the surface.”

So Kane works hard to make sure he’s not being erudite for the sake of erudition. “Thoughts deep, syntax clear, that’s the way I like to go. There are other comedians who tend to go syntax complex, thoughts shallow. And if you don’t speak posh or middle class, people will just go for you.”

Essex is as much a part of Kane’s comedy as Glasgow is for Kevin Bridges or Wales is for Rhod Gilbert. So it’s funny to hear that he’s now a fish out of water, living up north in leafy Cheshire.

But rather than isolating him from his old stamping ground, it’s made him think about it all the more. “It’s really brought into focus how weird, fast-paced, angry and culturally unique the South East of England is,” he says.

“I’ve been performing a bit about the difference between ordering a coffee in London or Essex, or ordering a coffee up north. In the north there’s someone asking about ‘Barbara’ and ‘How are the grandkids?’ and down south you’re saying “Just throw an espresso in my face, now when’s my train? Move! Move! Move!” That’s part of the story behind Kane’s brand new touring show, The Fast and the Curious, which is coming to the Wycombe Swan tonight (Friday), the Hexagon on Wednesday (May 22), and the New Theatre Oxford on Wednesday, May 29.

Despite his propensity for deep thinking, Kane is keen to point out that the main focus of the evening will not be him expounding some grand philosophical theory.

“I know I can do shows with a clever theme and all that,” he says, “but I just want to do a beltingly funny night in the theatre, so at 10.30pm you can’t move for the pain of laughing — that’s my only objective.”

However, he’s aware that he might frustrate his own aims. “Because of the way my brain works, my writer brain, it ends up being about fatherhood or this that or the other.”

One of the things Kane does want to talk about this time around is the way humanity seems to be divided into two distinct groups — not rich and poor or men and women but a distinction that is possibly even more fundamental.

“As far as I can tell there’s broadly two tribes that get things done in our western culture. Half of us have this sort of restless brain, always working.”

These are the people who pace up and down, who can’t bear being delayed, who are always either stressing out or chasing the next excitement.

“The second group is the ‘Life’s too short, man, chill out. It’s a red bill, who cares, they’re not going to seize your house.’”

The type of people who, in Kane’s words, think “a traffic jam is an opportunity for a word game”.

According to the comedian, these two groups aren’t adversaries. “They’re the two tribes and they need each other. You tend to marry one of the opposite group. If you’re not sure which one you are, ask yourselves this — when you’re going on holiday, which of you goes on TripAdvisor, looks up all the hotels and restaurants and sucks the fun out of the trip before you go?”

There’s no doubting which camp Kane belongs to. He’s one of life’s natural Duracell bunnies, talking at incredible speed in a desperate (but perhaps always unsuccessful) attempt to keep up with the flow of his own ideas. “I called the show The Fast and the Curious because that’s how I have to live every single day of my life,” says Kane.

It sounds like a compulsion. “Nothing slows down, I bounce out of bed at a hundred miles an hour before I even have a coffee.”

And that energy is channeled into constant mental activity. “I analyse everything — it’s exhausting being me some days. And it’s like that on stage — the tiniest crease in the curtain sends me off on some kind of journey.”

Kane doesn’t feel he’s changed his mental outlook since he first started gigging — in part because he came to stand-up relatively late. “If you’re past that 25th birthday when you try stand-up, you know yourself,” he says.

And who were you? “I was just a fizzing volcano of ideas that wanted to talk about life, love and family. And that could still be the blurb for this year’s show.”

• Russell Kane is touring The Fast and the Curious until December, including a show at London’s Eventim Apollo on Saturday, October 26. For a full list of tour dates, visit

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