Just don't take yourself too seriously says comedian Russell Howard
Russell Howard returns to TV with a new stand-up show, The Russell Howard Hour. He talks to Georgia Humphreys about why he's doing another news-led series, low self-esteem and whether his family vet his jokes
Tell us about The Russell Howard Hour. How does it differ from your previous news-led shows?
I wanted to do some stand-up around things that I cared about, so that's the show really. It's kind of raging and laughing and screaming and howling at the world. But I hope there's light and shade. I found out the other day that 24 per cent of kids that go back to school are malnourished in the UK – it's 2017! And yet in the same week I found out we've subsidised MPs' food in the house of commons to the tune of £3.7 million. Then I saw this lovely video clip of deaf kids hearing for the first time because of a [new] hearing aid... You have those moments of horror and those moments of joy, and that's what I want the show to be.
You've enjoyed great success as a comedian, yet you seem so grounded. What's the trick?
Well, just don't take yourself very seriously. When I did the Albert Hall, it was really funny; I think we were on the fourth night and me and my friend Pete, because he came to the show, we went to a bar in Camden near where I live and they wouldn't let us in because Pete didn't have ID. Pete is 40 years old. And it was just this weird thing of like, we've just done the Albert Hall and they were kind of staring at us. And that's just so beautiful; it's a real reminder of, you know, just don't take yourself seriously. Also, I think just be who you are. I'm not really interested in the celeb life, as it were.
Do you think it's tough for up-and-coming comedians, now there are so many avenues like social media to gain momentum?
I started when I was 18; I just thought "I really fancy giving stand up a go", and it was really great. A lovely fun hobby that kind of just developed, but I didn't really have a plan. And I think that's still the thing with loads of the great stand-ups coming through now – if you get into stand-up with the desire to be famous or end up on TV, it doesn't really work. But if you get into stand-up because you want to be a stand-up, there's so many gigs and so many avenues and so many things you can do. If you're good, it's never been a better time.
You've said in the past that, like many comedians, you've struggled from feelings of inadequacy. Is this something you've learned to overcome?
Oh no, all stand ups have pretty low self-esteem – otherwise we wouldn't do what we do. It's absurd, isn't it? It's like when you go out on stage every night, you're essentially saying to strangers, "Love me, love me". Stand-up is this amazing thing, because I'm quite shy really, and my family are quite extrovert so I've always been quite quiet and just sat back and watched them. But then I just found this sort of amazing vortex where I could let it all out. I'd love it if I could be like that all the time, but it would be weird.
Much of your material focuses on your family life. Do you ever have to get them to vet your jokes?
No, if anything, they just get upset if it's a bit too tame! They're like, "Why have you left that out?" Because it's disgusting! Whenever there's a wedding, everyone's acting up. The only person I have to ask if it's OK is my auntie. She self-injects Botox into her head and my uncle Tim, who was a beautiful man and is recently deceased, used to call her Auntie Gary because the Botox made her look like Gary Glitter. That's the only one I had to check, but she was fine with it.
What are you doing next?
I've got a stand-up show coming out on Netflix in November and we're doing two more series of Russell Howard & Mum [the pair did a road trip across the USA last year for Comedy Central]. I just really like my mum, I really like hanging out with her, and I get to go Japan with someone I quite like. It's going to be great.
The Russell Howard Hour starts on Sky 1 on Thursday September 21