Montreal Just For Laughs 2011: Russell Howard – The Time Is Now

Note: This review is from 2011

Review by Steve Bennett

One of the delights of Montreal’s Just For Laughs festival is seeing how British stars perform in front of audiences who don’t know who they are. Not only does it mean they can’t rely on crowd adulation – although the Canadians are famously polite – but the performances are necessarily more intimate. On his last UK tour, Russell Howard played Wembley Arena; here he’s playing to maybe 100 people in a cosy fringe theatre.

He brings his energy levels down accordingly. Starting from a relaxed perch on a barstool, there’s no sign of the puppydog enthusiasm that usually defines his delivery. He assures us that he’s a ‘giddy’ person, but there’s no immediate evidence of this

But he’s just skilfully playing the room he’s got, gradually becoming more animated in his voice as the audience warm to him, and begin to realise there’s more to this youthful 31-year-old than a generally upbeat outlook. Sure, his positivity shines through – he has the child-like ability to find happiness in simple pleasures – but the act goes beyond empty optimism, with snappy writing underpinning the engaging anecdotes, which are told with his inherently friendly Bristolian attitude.

And, despite their cuddly wrapping, most tales have if not edge, then at least substance beyond the bland. He can talk about inappropriate behaviour during sex or while looking after his temporarily wheelchair-bound brother, and have something to say on the subject of bigotry (spoiler alert: he’s against it). But it’s all in the spirit of being playful, not overtly hard-hitting. As he’s the first to admit, alpha-male behaviour isn’t his forte.

It might be difficult to believe that someone can always be this uncynical, but if it’s a façade, Howard never lets its slip; and the happiness spreads almost tangibly through the room. He sometimes embarks on routines which largely pan out just as you might predict – on the phrase ‘who’s your daddy’ or the terrifying prospect of a pack of drunk and horny women – but it’s generally nicely done, and with just enough of a twist to surprise.

Although there’s nothing genre-bending about his comedy, Howard brings a refreshing delivery to his eloquently-told stories, which flow together beautifully and frequently contain a gem of a joke, such as his efficient dismissal of Justin Bieber’s lyrics or wittily elegant description of those who crush joy. And joy is what Howard is all about – both celebrating it, and spreading it.

Reviewed at the Just For Laughs Festival, Montreal

Review date: 29 Jul 2011
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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