Ross Noble: Things

Note: This review is from 2008

Review by Steve Bennett

Ross Noble has built such a cult of personality around his whimsical Geordie nonsense that his devoted band of followers feel that it’s their friend up there on stage. They even like to join in, contributing random unsolicited comments, leaving gifts on stage like sacrificial offerings at the altar of Ross, and trying hard to match their hero’s levels of surrealism in the ill-judged Q&A session at the end.

Although Noble is clearly a polite, chatty bloke who happily entertains such interaction, it really shouldn’t be encouraged. For in full flow, he remains a supranatural force of brilliantly original comedy, but the instant he lets the audience set the agenda, the momentum starts to sap, even if he’s skilful enough to regain it when he needs to.

There is, of course, an intrinsic futility in reviewing any Ross Noble show, given that any two performances will be so substantially different. He’s a sugar-rush Kerouac, gushing forth a stream of consciousness from his arrested-development mind, getting as many laughs from the sudden moments of self-realisation as he does from the fruits of his mental safaris.

But listen carefully and you can spot bits of material in there – and very fine they are too, whether it be artlessly re-enacting Beyonce’s choreography like something the Pythons’ Gumbys might manage, imagining an unlikely alternative punishment for Jesus that didn’t quite make the Gospels or telling of the time he shattered his wrist in a motorbike crash, only to be attended to by a paramedic who turned out to be a big fan.

For all his self-perpetuating reputation for spouting utter nonsense, these are some well-crafted routines, depending more on an innate gift for storytelling that weird surrealism – that Christ segment notwithstanding. And so fluidly does he move from the hugely imaginative flights of fancy inspired by the briefest bits of audience banter to the prepared material, that the whole show has a spontaneity most other comics can only aspire to.

It’s helped by the fact the line between the on-stage Noble and the off-stage one seems so fine. ‘My life is a cartoon,’ he claims – and maybe that’s not far from the truth. There’s the distinct feeling that this is a man who never takes anything – a serious crash, his new fatherhood, or losing his home and virtually every possession he owned in the Australian bush fires – seriously. He’s also prone to talking in his sleep, imagining such gibberish as him being chased by a man with pumpkin legs – a scenario that could so easily slip into his set. That Geordie cadence is undoubtedly an asset, too, giving an almost enchanted air to his tales. Even the plentiful swearing sounds lyrical.

It seems a waste of his talents to have him deal with the gifts and notes left on stage during the interval. This has become a customary part of his shows now, but there’s an air of indulgence to it. The fans sharing their in-joke get a thrill, but the rest of us can be left behind, as Noble fills us in about incidents that happened at other gigs that inspired such tokens. Such vicarious tales are never as good as the things that could happen in the here and now – and that’s what we brought tickets for.

Inevitably, the natural conclusion of this is people asking Noble to wish their mates happy birthday, like some low-rent local radio DJ’s dedication, against which he naturally rails. He gets some comic mileage out of some of the gifts, but never as much as when he’s left to his own devices.

The same is true of the Q&A of his encore, which comes after a brilliant natural climax. It seems an unnecessary section, after nearly two hours on stage even allowing for the interval, and extends the night just that bit too long. There are really only so many stupid questions about his set – a magnificent giant inflatable model of a winged, four-headed Noble with the body of a turtle, tentacles and dinosaur feet – that we need to hear.

Noble’s fans cannot be blamed for trying to join in the fun – but they only expose how tricky it is to pull off this sort of whimsy. Despite what his detractors may say, it’s not all meaningless references to badgers and monkeys. Noble has a rare comic skill, and it’s always a pleasure to see him exercise it.

Reviewed by: Steve Bennett
Brighton, March 2009

Review date: 6 Mar 2008
Reviewed by: Steve Bennett

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