Rhod Gilbert & The Giant Grapefruit: Comedian brings show to Leeds Grand Theatre, St George’s Hall in Bradford and York Barbican

Rhod Gilbert has made an amazing return to stand-up comedy after a devastating cancer diagnosis. He talks to John Blow ahead of his next Yorkshire dates.

Rhod Gilbert is, understandably, raring to go.

After he was diagnosed with stage four head and neck cancer in 2022, the Welshman is back on tour and stops by Yorkshire over the coming weeks.

Gilbert, 55, had been unsure of whether he would ever perform again. However, with a clear scan in October last year following treatment, he has since been bowled over by the reaction to the new show, Rhod Gilbert & The Giant Grapefruit.

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Rhod Gilbert at Lawrence Batley Theatre Huddersfield back in 2009. Picture by Simon Hulme.Rhod Gilbert at Lawrence Batley Theatre Huddersfield back in 2009. Picture by Simon Hulme.
Rhod Gilbert at Lawrence Batley Theatre Huddersfield back in 2009. Picture by Simon Hulme.

“It's been fantastic,” the former host of Never Mind the Buzzcocks tells The Yorkshire Post. “I think it's sort of the best response I've ever had. I think it's a show that strikes a chord with a lot of people.

“I’m talking about my cancer, a lot of it, for the last couple of years, but I've tried to make it as funny as anything I've ever done. I can't stand on stage and not get laughs as often as I can. I'm going for laughs - make no mistakes, it is a comedy show - but a lot of it is about my cancer story.

“So many people are touched by this (cancer), it's unbelievable, and I think people enjoy laughing at it and taking some power back from it and finding the humour in it, talking about it.”

Gilbert was, coincidentally, undertaking a fundraising trek in Cuba for the Velindre Cancer Centre in Cardiff – he had already been a patron for years – when he first found a lump.

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Welsh comedian Rhod Gilbert. Picture: PA/Ian West.Welsh comedian Rhod Gilbert. Picture: PA/Ian West.
Welsh comedian Rhod Gilbert. Picture: PA/Ian West.

Documentary makers filmed Gilbert’s chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatment, which took place in the same hospital, for the Channel 4 programme A Pain in the Neck for SU2C.

As well as the treatment, it showed his emotional stage comeback alongside the testimonies from his wife, comedian and writer Sian Harries, and fellow performers such as Greg Davies and Michael McIntyre.

He says: “I'm all clear at the moment. I mean, with head and neck cancer, the chances of it coming back are way higher than I would like if I'm honest. But having said that, even more, it makes you want to grab life by the nuts and get out there and do it.

“It's inconceivable a year ago that I was doing this. Just madness. Every night I go on stage and say: ‘I can't believe I'm doing this show tonight, here’. And it's really true. I have to pinch myself every night on stage that this is happening 18 months after being diagnosed. My world fell apart 18 months ago.

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“The first words that were spoken to me by the guy who did my initial biopsy, he said: ‘Hopefully this won't be the end’. And then I was lying in bed for months. All I did was go to hospital, have radiotherapy and I’d go back to bed. I had feeding tube into my stomach and I couldn't speak properly, my voice was starting to go. You’re so ill that you don't know whether you’re coming or going.

“I wouldn’t say I definitely didn't think I'd ever do this again but it wasn't on my mind in any way, thinking oh, don't worry, in a year’s time you’ll be back out there on stage.”

His last tour, The Book of John, started in 2019 and ran until 2023, with extra dates added due to demand, Covid delays, and further postponements because of his cancer diagnosis.

Over the years, he has also been on the likes of Have I Got News for You, 8 Out of 10 Cats Does Countdown and numerous other comedy panel shows.

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But Gilbert’s current tour takes him on a run of more than 130 dates nationwide until November 2025 – so there’s no half-measures.

He says: "I'm really going for it but equally, it isn't as intense as I used to do. I am taking it fairly easy, believe it or not, There's lots of breaks and don't do five nights in a week any more, six nights, like I might have done in the past. There’s never more than four and it’s usually more like two or three days a week and then a few days off, so I am, believe it or not, taking it fairly easy.”

Yorkshire shows have always been great fun, he says, but part of the joy in coming to this region is that he gets to stay active in the scenery.

“I'm not one of these people who gets a hotel near the gig, I get an Airbnb or a cottage somewhere and I’ll walk. So for me Yorkshire is one of those places I look forward to going because I'm all over the countryside. Every day I'll be going for some sort of big walk in the countryside and obviously Yorkshire is spoiling me for that.”

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Hard times, of course, can make for good comic material, which may explain why writing this show once he had recuperated came quite easily to Gilbert.

"I wasn't like, ‘Oh, that's funny (during the treatment), I'll note that down for when I feel better’. There was none of that. But I obviously did sort of just absorb a lot of funny stuff.

"Months after I finished treatment and I started to feel half-human again, the show came thick and fast. I wrote it quicker than I'd ever written a comedy show, which is why we were ready to go early in January. I wrote it in weeks whereas it normally takes me years, I suppose. It just flew off the pen or onto the laptop, so I'd obviously been gathering ideas, things, almost subconsciously while I was ill.

"There’s so much funny stuff, to be honest, so much funny stuff has happened in the last year or two, or so much joyous stuff, as well as the dark stuff.”

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Rhod Gilbert is at Leeds Grand Theatre on May 26; St George’s Hall in Bradford on June 6; York Barbican on June 19 and 20. He then goes to Sheffield City Hall on October 19 and 20; Halifax Victoria Theatre on November 9; and returns to Leeds Grand on November 10.

In 2025, he is at Doncaster Dome on April 10; Hull Connexin Live on April 11; Harrogate Royal Hall on May 15; Scarborough Spa Theatre on October 10; and Middlesbrough Town Hall on October 11. Tickets: www.rhodgilbertcomedian.com

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