Chuck out the chintz, Ross

Noble fan Ian Pile despairs of a new trend...

Before I start, let's get one fact straight: Ross Noble is a comedy genius. As someone who has watched hundreds of acts over more than 20 years, Ross is probably the comedian I most admire. The vast majority of stand-ups turn up with the set memorised, heckler 'putdowns' written, and the jovial audience banter well scripted. Ross, however, pretty much just turns up and wings it.

The evenings at the Joker comedy club in Southend, Essex, where we were lucky enough to have Ross as a compere, will probably be the funniest nights the club will ever see. All he ever needed was to see something and he'd be off - someone's T-shirt, a bit of décor in the room, a latecomer sloping in, anything… a springboard into the ad-libbed pool of comedy.

There was always a bit of scripted material in the back pocket for emergencies, but it was rarely needed. But he’s no lazy good-fer-nuthin‚ who can’t be bothered to write material. The stuff he creates before your eyes is nothing short of stunning, and every show he performs is unique. How scary must that be? Walking out to ad lib for two or three hours.

Today, and Ross is arguably the hottest comedy act on the ‘big venue’ circuit, but he has never felt obliged to reinvent his act for the larger audiences. Essentially he does what he always did in the small smoky clubs, just walk on stage and see what happens. The announcement of a new tour for most acts heralds the arrival of fresh material - but with Ross you get that every night. Back in 2002, I followed saw four or five nights in the Sonic Waffle tour in the space of a couple of weeks, and each time the show was at least 90 per cent ad-libbed.

So it was with the usual high expectation, that I went to see Ross on his latest tour, Nobleism. His ramblings were again up to his usual high standard, he performed for close on three hours, as he paced the stage, like a caged tiger looking for a way out. Yet something had changed, and not for the better.

Ross relies on his audience to provide him with the raw material for his act, but in the last couple of years a worrying trend has started. People (and for ‘people’ read 'wacky types') seem to have decided it's not good enough for Ross to get his comedy from unsuspecting subjects , and they now want to be the 'stars' of the show themselves.

We've seen a marked rise in youngsters in the front few rows sporting stupid hats, knowing full well Ross won't be able to resist the bait. But the ridiculing of someone who wants to be ridiculed isn’t so much fun.

But by far the most annoying trend has started during the half-time interval, where armies of wacky ones leave all manner of shite on the stage: funny notes (I use the word ‘funny’ in the loosest possible way), crappy homemade T-shirts, pieces of popcorn, sweets, you name it… whatever it is, they all have the same thing in common, it isn't funny.

But like a junkie walking out to see 30 lines of coke set up for his pleasure, Ross can't help himself, and will always make a beeline for this rubbish. This tour was the worst I’ve ever seen, the stage was covered, and it took him just over 45 minutes of the second half to work his way through everything that had been left there, each item inducing a rather annoying series of whoops from the contributors, as their tat was picked.

The truth is, it's funny for the one or people who put it there, but for everyone else it’s boring. How funny is someone's bus pass going to be for an audience of 1,500? Of course the owner of the bus pass goes home feeling like Charlie Big Potatoes‚ thinking (wrongly), that he was the star of the show.

The second half of Noble gigs are starting to become a bore, I’m afraid, as he methodically works through these 'gifts', wasting 45 minutes that could have been filled with good material. And each time he does it, he seals his fate, as more fans will try to get in on the act next time around.

How we got in this mess I don't really know. Ross really shouldn't pander to these cretins. He has the audience in the palm of his hands and could stop the trend almost immediately, yet instead chooses to alienate the vast majority of his audience by allowing it to continue. Personally I'd walk on stage with a bin liner, chuck the fucking lot in and then carry on the act is normal... or better still have a stage hand walk out and clear it before returning for the second half.

Everyone I've spoken to who went to this tour has said the same thing . The first half was brilliant but the second half tedious as he went through all the crap left on stage. While Ross still is a comedy genius, his new trendy audience are far from it - and are in danger of ruining his act.

Published: 1 Jan 2008

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