Interview: Ross Noble
Ross Noble needs no introduction. A national and regional treasure who just seems to get better and better, Ross’ latest tour show, Nonsensory Overload, is testament to his growing presence on the UK comedy scene. Giggle Beats’ Luke Milford caught up with Noble backstage after a hometown show at Newcastle City Hall.
LM: Hi Ross. You’ve been on tour a while now and your voice seems to have taken a battering. How’s it holding up?
RN: The weird thing is it’s actually better than it was which is mad! My throat was so bad you could hardly understand what I was saying, so now to us [the crew] it just sounds normal.
LM: I was chatting with Dave Johns recently and he said he gave you your first start at 14 – was it really that young?
RN: I did, I was fifteen actually [laughs]. Dave likes to go like, ‘Erm, erm he was 10. No, he was just born and got up!’ I love Dave, though.
LM: So how did the early years go?
RN: Well, I got up and did 5 minutes. In fact, this shows how long ago it was. I came off the stage and the headline act said, ‘You look like a younger version of an impressionist who is on the circuit at the moment.’ I was like, ‘Oh yeah, who’s that? She said, ‘Steve Coogan.’ I’d never heard of him. Then two years later I was like, ‘Oh, that Steve Coogan.’
LM: Not the worst comment to receive, I guess! So at the age of 15, what inspired you to get up and give it a go?
RN: When I was a kid I was crap at school; I knew I was never going to have any kind of academic job. I thought I was going to be a stuntman or a DJ; I used to listen to Night Owls all the time. I wrote in one time – I was probably only 12 – and asked if I could have a job stacking records. I just wanted a job at Metro Radio [laughs]. I thought I could work my way through the ranks and finally get on air.
He [Alan Robson] wrote me a very nice letter back in the nicest way possible saying, ‘No, don’t be silly.’ He also said I should just try hospital radio to get some experience. I think I always knew I was going to be a performer, just not an actor – I couldn’t be bothered to learn all the words.
I was always a big comedy fan, and one night I was listening to Paddy McDee on Radio Newcastle and he was interviewing a guy called Frank Sidebottom, who I was also a fan of. They had a competition to win tickets to a comedy show. I rang up – I think I was the only one, to be honest, so obviously won the tickets.
I was 14 at the time, and had been doing a juggling act with a mate of mine and was all set to join the circus. I went along to that comedy night, though, and the headline act that night was Jo Brand and compere was Jack Dee. It was down at the Tyne Journal, actually, and I was sat there with my dad. For a 14 year old, I suppose, it was like when your dad takes you to the football, and then you want to be a footballer. I went at that moment, ‘That’s what I want to be.’
LM: Would you agree that comedy is going through a boom, and the North East is playing a big part in it with acts like Sarah Millican and yourself?
RN: God – through the roof. The North East thing is a funny one, as I think it always suffers a bit as it’s really hard to get a big scene going up here what with a lot of acts being London based. It costs a lot of money to bring a big act up from London, you know. There’s the train, staying overnight – there’s a big expense.
You get a lot of Scottish acts coming down, then nipping back up home again. What that does mean, though, is that you only get top acts coming up. What it also means is there has to be a really good pool of local comics – then they can get the opportunity to work with some of the top acts from around the country.
Sarah, for example, lives in Manchester and I would say she is more part of the Manchester scene. When I started touring in theatres there were only a handful of other comics like Izzard, Dee, Evans also doing that. Before the arenas and all that – if you were playing theatres you couldn’t get any bigger. Now you just had Peter Kay down at the arena, which I think makes it easier for young comics to get started by supporting big acts like this.
Also going back to, ‘Is comedy going through a boom?’ you just have to look at the schedule of this place (Newcastle City Hall) and in the next two months there’s 17 comic performing, so boom absolutely.
LM: You mentioned arenas – you could easily fill arenas yet you choose to do smaller venues spaced out over a longer period of time. Why? Do you prefer the intimacy?
RN: Yeah, arenas are a weird one. I did an arena tour and it’s on the new DVD – I did it over in Oz. I did it just to see what it was like, to see if enjoyed it. Peter Kay and Eddie Izzard, for example – I think it has got to the point with them where the demand far outstrips the supply and it’s worth doing the arenas if you can. Five nights at the arena is like doing 20 nights here at the City Hall. That’s just a logistics thing, you know. I can see the appeal. It’s tricky, you know. It’s kind of like, ‘Do you want to play a venue where people will see you, or do you want to play in front of the whole world?’
LM: It’s a very good point. Have you seen anyone recently on the circuit who you thought was brilliant?
RN: Not really [laughs]. I don’t get too many nights off. There are a couple of acts I’ve seen lately; Felicity Word I saw over at the Fringe this year, and she was hilarious. If she ever comes up here you should definitely go and see her.
Actually, last year and the year before that I took a bit of time off and I ran a show at a music venue – it could only hold about 150 people. I did that for a few Sundays in a row. I got a mix of incredibly big acts like Tim Minchin and Adam Hills and a load of up and coming acts, and I did it in Australia. That’s a concept I would love to try over here.
LM: It would be excellent to see huge acts in such a small venue. Finally, what does the future hold for Ross Noble once the tour ends?
RN: A lie down [laughs]. I’ve got a few Blu-rays I would like to get round to watching. I will be touring Oz next year and hopefully a television show, depending whether or not telly has any money left as at the moment they don’t appear to. Also, all the ideas I have for telly just seem to be too expensive, so we will just have to see.