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The Comedy of Errors

Interview: Ross Noble

11 August 14 interview: Penny Reeve
illustrations: Jamie Gibson

If you like your comedy a bit surreal and not at all structured, Ross Noble is your man. Not only is he currently on the box with a TV show controlled by Twitter, he’s about to tour the country with his new stand-up show, Tangentleman. With him gracing two Nottingham stages in the coming months, we thought it’d be rude not to have a chat...

What have you been up to today?
I’ve been out in the woods riding a child’s bike. Then I came in and had a chat about my driveway which needs sorting out. Then I had some chicken and got on my motorbike and came into London. That was my entire agenda for today.

Sounds fun. Tell us about your TV show, Freewheeling
It’s a TV show without a plan or a format. People tweet me ideas to take part in something and if the idea is a good one, I go and film it. I make the show up as I go along. If I need anymore help as I’m continuing along my route then I just tweet out and people join me. I once spent a week in Northampton. Someone said "Northampton’s shit, don’t come here," so I had to find out whether it was shit or not.

Was it shit?
You’ll have to watch the show to find out.

What’s been your favourite Freewheeling moment so far?
It changes day to day. I ended up on the set of a movie where somebody tweeted me that they were making a film in a castle. The next thing you know I was in full costume with a sword, shield and a big scar on my face, beating up a monk in a fifteenth century abbey.

You obviously use Twitter a lot at the moment. Have you reached saturation point yet?
What I find slightly frustrating is when you say something which is clearly a joke that people have to work out for themselves and then you get tweeted back with, “Well what about this” and you have to reply, “Well, that’s the joke”. It would be good if they added a feature a bit like on QI when you give the obvious answer and the buzzer goes off. Maybe Twitter could set it so that it disables their phone for a week.

You’ve never Freewheeled in Nottingham, have you?
No - we do go to Leicester, though.

Oh no. Don’t tell us that...
Well, we haven’t had a tweet that’s taken us to Nottingham yet. It’s all on the cards. People keep tweeting me asking when I’m going to such and such a place and I go well “I don’t know, that’s the point of the show.” So tweet me and if it’s something I like the sound of, I’ll come.

You’re a snooker fan, we can get Michael Holt and Anthony Hamilton in - you could play snooker with eels or something.
Yeah, I’ll do it, if you can organise that. If somebody says go and get a pair of shoes because Northampton is where shoes are made, you can’t just go, “Okay, I’ll do that then.” But if somebody says, “We make shoes, come and make shoes”, then that’s brilliant because it’s an invitation rather than a suggestion. You get people on television that you don’t normally and that’s the real benefit.

How about a mushy pea fight in the Market Square?
Yes, but only if someone told they had a mushy pea factory and offered us a load of mushy peas.

We’ll have to get our creative juices flowing then and think of something.
Excellent.

Despite not visiting us for Freewheeling, Nottingham seems to be a staple on your tour route. Is there a reason you love us so much?
For years I used to come up and play Just the Tonic and I still come up whenever I can. JTT is a really well run club. I do the odd kind of secret, unannounced gig if I’m about to go on tour or whatever. I used to perform and compere there quite a bit, it’s partly to do with the Nottingham audiences and partly the club itself, but I always have a really good time. There’s a real die hard comedy scene in Nottingham and a lot of top comedy fans who just appreciate something a bit different. Plus there’s a Nando’s within walking distance.

Speaking of big tours, you always have really elaborate sets and outfits. Most comedians don’t tend to do that. Why do you?
You make me sound like Kylie! A few years ago I started using a radio mic instead of a hand-held mic so I could be a bit more physical on stage. It’s sort of become the norm now but a few years ago the idea of not having a microphone in a stand was unheard of. It’s just about making the effort. My live show is just about what’s going on in my head, really. So I think it’s quite nice to have a massive set and be watching some sort of grand theatrical thing, even if what's in front of it is just someone talking bollocks.

You’re known for going off on tangents. Do you just jot some stuff down on some paper beforehand and then go for it?
That might be a bit of an exaggeration. The great thing about stand-up is that you can make it whatever you want it to be. I really admire people that can write two hours of one liners or whatever but, for me, stand-up is best when you’re watching somebody play, so that’s what I try and do.

Is that tempered when you release your DVDs? You have so many extras on there so they’re slightly more structured?
That’s why I put so many extras on. If you release just an hour long show people come away from watching the DVD and then think that’s the entire show. That’s where I kind of look at it and think, “is that a reflection of what I actually do?” So I tend to put multiple shows on as I want people to get a bit of everything.

What’s the worst heckle you’ve ever had?
It isn’t really things people say. If people shout stuff out, you can work with that. The worst heckle’s probably when you do a gig in a pub and half the pub is there to see a show but the other half didn’t know that the show was on, so you have a load of people just chatting. Or you’re up against the noise of a fruit machine or a pinball machine or something. I did play a place in Australia called Mount Isa which is a mining town that is operational 24 hours a day and during the show they were blasting mines, so you could just hear these enormous explosions which rocked the room and see dust coming down from the light fittings.

How about the best?
I once had two little kids in Edinburgh, they were about ten and six, and they were just talking about how they had a pet lion and he was a nuclear lion that lived in the ground. That was just great because there was just so much to play with. I suppose that wasn’t so much of a heckle, a heckle implies interrupting a show and I just like to get into conversations with people so it just ends up where it ends up.

I love when people put little presents on the stage for you.
I’m glad you like that because there’s some nights when there’s that much stuff on the stage I worry that people are just literally watching me tidy up. The best stuff is the things that people have really put a lot of thought into, things that are odd. People sometimes leave gifts and I’ll just go, “Why would you think that this was something worth giving me?” and then other times you’ll have things like bowling pins that someone has drawn faces on… There was one gift that was a collage of John Bentley from the Gadget Show, that really made me laugh.

Who’s your all time favourite comedian?
Oh blimey... I don’t really have one. When I was a kid, I really loved Frankie Howard and all the folk club guys like Mike Harding, Jasper Carrot and Billy Connolly. Nowadays I really like American comics. I absolutely love Stephen Wright, he’s phenomenal. He does all monotone one-liners and it’s the furthest away from what I do, as you can imagine. But equally I really like people like Jonathan Winters and Robin Williams, who are closer to what I do.

Who do you like working with?
Sarah Milligan, I did QI with her recently. Noel Fielding. Bob Mortimer was on the first series of Freewheeling and that was one of the most joyous bits of telly I’ve ever done, he was just hilarious. I like people who are incredibly quick; Lee Mac, Johnny Vegas and Frank Skinner are all very quick-witted and I like when you can just throw something out there and they can pick it up and run with it. Paul Merton, obviously. I really enjoy Sean Lock as well. I don’t really do 8 out of 10 Cats, so I don’t get to work with him quite as much as I’d like to. Really, if I’d like to work with him more I could just go on 8 out of 10 Cats more, couldn’t I? But I’m not, so I take back that last statement.

You’ve done TV, radio, film and stand-up. You’re a bit of a media mogul, so what does the future bring? Are you going to just stay around the house now you’re a dad?
Well I’m about to go on tour for eight months, so no is the answer. Stand-up is my first love and everything else is just for a laugh really. I love Freewheeling because I can’t really think of anything else on telly like it. I have final say over the edits and everything. Even if you don’t like Freewheeling, you can’t deny it’s different. Telly’s basically like creativity by committee, so it’s amazing making a show where you don’t have to run your ideas past people.

Other comedians must be a bit envious...
I’m aware of what a privileged position I am to be able to do that. In the past I’ve sort of come across as anti-television. I’ve always sort of stuck to my guns just doing stand-up and the reason for that is that it’s all about control and it’s all about being able to create something without having to go through the process, without compromising what you’re doing. Dave, as a channel, is probably the only place I could think of at the moment where you could make something like that because they’re all about doing something a bit different.

How about film?
I’d love to do another film. I’m not just going to do something for the sake of it, it’s got to be something I’m passionate about. In the meantime I’ll just be dicking about on stage.

Just The Tonic Host, The Forum, Saturday 16 August, £13.99
Tangentleman, Royal Concert Hall, Wednesday 8 October, £25
Freewheeling is shown on Dave.


Ross Noble website

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