Russell Howard on doing stand-up in Ireland and getting round China's censors
Having just finished five gigs in Dublin, stand-up comedian Russell Howard will soon be visiting Belfast on his current Round The World Tour. David Roy quizzed the Bristol-born host of TV hits Russell Howard's Good News and Russell Howard's Stand Up Central about what's fuelling his latest live show
HI RUSSELL, did you enjoy your stint in Dublin?
Dublin really reminds me of Bristol – it has that same sort of element where people are very chatty. I've lived in London for 10 years and you sort of forget that people do talk outside London.
I had an amazing taxi journey in from Dublin airport. The bloke asked me what I was doing here and I told him I had a week of gigs at Vicar Street. He said 'I thought you were a musician, you look like a f***in' weirdo'. He makes an excellent point – I do look like a weirdo.
But it's so much better when people are like that. It's one of the best things about travelling and doing stand-up, you can just meet someone and have a natter and it may or may not end up in your show. Vicar Street is just such a great venue that I wanted to come over and hang out for a few nights. Ireland is just a nice place to hang out, I wanted a little treat before the tour went mad.
You kicked off the Round The World tour with five nights at the Bristol Hippodrome – how were these 'home' shows for you?
They were great, it was really good fun, it's always a lot of fun going back to Bristol. It was the usual merry-go-round of madness. On the first night, this 12-year-old kid comes up to me in the street and goes (adopts west country accent) "here, Russ, my mum really fancies you?" – and his mum was across the road, waving.
I was just like 'oh my God', I mean who sends their kid out like a canary? But happily there were no 12-year-old kids being pimped out by their mums at the actual shows. So it was great – I mean, I'm always going to say that because I'm from the west country, but I just love performing there. And it was great to do the new show too.
Round The World draws on current events more than your previous tours – have you been influenced by years of picking over the news with your satirical BBC2 TV show, Russell Howard's Good News?
Yeah, it's the most 'Good News-y' show that I've done in that it's about 'what's going on'.
What I tended to do before when I'd finish doing the TV show and then go out on tour, I was so sick of the news that I just sort of had lots of anecdotal, personal stuff – whereas Round The World is kind of about everything that's going on 'out there' as well.
But it's still stand-up, I'm not using news clips or anything like that – it's just more issue-based than usual.
It's kind of weird: when I look at the 'topic list' for the show, it's like 'death, love, self-harm, depression, anxiety, my nan and grandad dying, Trump, Piers Morgan, unicorns...'.
It doesn't sound like 'ha-ha-ha!', but it's really funny within those topics. It's kind of me noticing that there are still loads of things that are wonderful and funny about the world – even if we are currently cloaked in an absolute apron of s***.
So you're trying to help restore our faith in humanity in a time of crisis, basically?
I think that's the thing: if you consume the world through the news and the media, you can sort of lose faith in it all. But we're still fundamentally wonderful – it's just a little bit harder to find it at the moment.
Were you always a 'news junkie' or did that develop while doing Good News?
It was exactly that. But also I'm older now, so it's just that thing of starting to look around a bit more. I've been doing stand-up since I was 18 and I don't remember England being this divided, ever.
Travelling around the States doing gigs there, you can't help but notice the divisions there as well. So I find it a really fascinating time to be alive and as a consequence of that I think we're all suddenly 'news junkies'.
Brexit confused us all, Trump has confused us all, we're looking at Teresa May and thinking 'God, is that a leader?!'. There's a paucity of heroes and leaders in the world that I think certainly young people are kind of baffled by at the moment. So it's a really interesting time to be doing stand-up, you know?
Are you looking forward to your 10-night stand at London's Royal Albert Hall?
It's really exciting – it's an amazing venue, although it's very hard not to get 'FA Cup syndrome' at massive gigs like that. The very first time I did Wembley, I don't remember the gig at all. I went for a Chinese beforehand with my friends Dan and Andy – and that's all I remember about that night. The whole gig went by in a blur.
But as you get older, you try and enjoy it rather than be terrified by it. When you get to that stage (at the Royal Albert Hall), you have to remind yourself of how cool a moment it really is.
You're also heading out to China on this tour – how did that come about and do you know what to expect?
Basically, Russell Howard's Good News is on YouTube out there – I think some guy just translated the show into Chinese and it just took off, it's kind of like this cult hit. Then somebody rang my management and offered us some gigs in China, so I was like 'yeah, why not?' I dunno what it's going to be like, it might be a disaster – but it might be brilliant too.
Don't they censor shows over there? Did you have to submit jokes in advance?
Yes! But what we did was, we sent them a video of me performing in Swindon – so I'm talking about roundabouts and the fact there's a swimming complex called The Oasis which is really s*** and all this other 'local' stuff. So, somewhere deep in the Chinese government, there is somebody analysing it – which is just mind-blowing. Some poor sod is sat there having to figure out like, 'what is a Lion bar?'
We haven't actually had word back about what I can or can't say, but I imagine that if I take the p*** out of Trump in China it will go down pretty well.
Russell Howard will perform Round The World at SSE Arena Belfast on Tuesday March 28. Tickets available now via Ticketmaster outlets.