Comedian Russell Howard is back on our television screens ahead of his return to the live stage, including in Yorkshire, later this year. Gemma Dunn reports.
Fancy starring in a Bollywood movie? Competing in a rural Olympics? Channelling your inner assassin? It’s all in a day’s work for comedian Russell Howard and his mother, Ninette.
Their adventures at the other side of the Atlantic were captured for the small screen in two travelogue series of Russell Howard & Mum: USA Road Trip.
And they have joined forces once again in a bid to travel the globe, one continent and one mad experience at a time.
The third run of their backpacking exploits - titled Russell Howard & Mum: Globetrotters and launching next week - sees the Bristolian duo broaden their horizons in the Far East.
“I’m not very good at being able to just sit,” Howard, 38, says. He will return to the live stage with his third and largest world tour to date in autumn, taking in both Leeds and Sheffield.
And he continues to dissect the week in news and heckle the headlines in his Sky One show The Russell Howard Hour, next airing on Thursday.
“They’re all fun things,” he says of his busy schedule. “It’s like, ‘You’re going to get to do a travel show’, ‘You’re going to go to India with your mum’, ‘You’re going to do some stand-up gigs’, ‘You’re going to do a TV show’. Great.
“And if you’ve been in a slum in Delhi, it really puts your stress into perspective. Like, ‘Oh God, I’ve got to write a joke about Brexit’.
“They’re living off nothing and begging for food, so it makes you realise how lucky you are - you may as well try and enjoy it. Because you’ll be dead soon.”
Howard’s latest escapades take in the likes of Thailand, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and India.
And with word of a “gap week” on the travellers’ paradise island of Koh Phangan to getting neck deep in some sumo wrestling - all the while with your mum in tow - the series certainly promises to be an eye-opener.
On finding his “inner hippy” in Thailand, he says: “We did a bit of wake boarding but the main thing I remember is the cacao ceremony. We were there for six hours, breathing in and out and drinking chocolate.
“It was all really full-on and crazy and wild and amazing. I loved it. But that was hot on the heels of the tantric workshop, which was just awful. Awful for me. I mean, mum loved it.”
His highlight though was massaging elephants in Chiang Mai.
“You go to a sanctuary and you’re giving them a mud bath and a massage and then you get in the river with them and wash them down. So it’s basically a spa day for elephants and it was really, really lovely.”
His travel experiences are certainly varied, but there is one thing that he says is an absolute no-no.
“Weirdly, the one thing I don’t do is dancing. That sounds so pathetic, but I’ve just never got to that level of confidence where I can dance. I dance like a newborn pony. I just feel so embarrassed.
“And mum’s is strictly no nudity. Whereas I’m all right with nudity, but I don’t like dancing.”
According to talent management company Avalon, Russell Howard & Mum: USA Road Trip, which launched in 2016 for Comedy Central UK, became the channel’s highest rating original commission.
“People either go, ‘Oh, that’s exactly how I am with my mum’ or ‘Oh my God, I could never be like that with my mum’, so you have this universal [appeal],” Howard says, reflecting on why the show works.
“Also, you get to travel and see these amazing places with somebody that’s so unaffected. My mum hasn’t been media-trained in any way. She hasn’t had her lines written for her. It’s just pure.”
It’s the “perfect time” to watch a show like this, he quips, “because it’s all cold and dreary and divided. We’re full-on Brexit again, so it’s pure escapism to watch two people in the sun, being silly.”
The pair’s exploits have opened his eyes to the thrill of a gap year to see the world.
“I completely understand why people do it,” says Howard, who is also known for his previous topical show Russell Howard’s Good News, Russell Howard’s Stand Up Central, and appearances on comedy panel show Mock The Week.
“I think it should be mandatory. It must be so wonderful, if you’re young, to save money up and then have this year of freedom to figure yourself out. It opens your eyes, particularly given how divisive things are at the minute.”
Mum Ninette has caught the travel bug too and finds herself restless when they’re back on home turf.
“The biggest problem is [the show’s] put a real strain on my mum and dad’s marriage because she comes home and she’s so bored.
“She can’t sit down and watch TV; she’s really struggling because she’s got the [travel] bug. But me and my mum are now grown-up versions of ‘this one time, at band camp’.
“It’s all we talk about, so we’re like, ‘Well, when me and mum were in India’ or ‘When we were in South Korea, in a giant robot’. But the best thing is, I’ve got all these amazing memories with my mum.”
Travelling together has brought them closer, he says. “Not to be too corny, but I really love my family. I really love my mum, and Comedy Central said, ‘Do you want to do a travel show? You can go with anyone’.
“And my mum, three weeks before, had said that her only ambition in life was to ‘Be in an old folks’ home where they didn’t hit you’.
“And I just thought it was so bleak. I thought the very least I could do, as her son, is give her some memories to enjoy in between the beatings. So I thought, ‘I’ll just take her’.”
As for the rest of the family? “Dad doesn’t really care to be honest, he’s just happy cycling and cracking on with his life. A lot of people say, ‘Would you do it with your dad?’ But it would be awful.
“It would just be two men who look exactly the same, in a car, not talking. But my sister [actress Kerry Howard] and my brother [Daniel] came out for bits of it, so that was nice to see them.”
It won’t be long before Howard is jet-setting again, though this time with his tour. Respite begins with a nationwide arena tour - but he will also perform in Africa, north America, Europe and Australasia, visiting 24 countries and 51 cities including Bangkok, Berlin, New York and Melbourne.
He will take to the stage at the First Direct Arena in Leeds on September 27, and perform to Sheffield at FLYDSA Arena the following night.
“It’s a laugh,” he says. “Seeing different parts of the world is such a privilege and a really great way of understanding every place you’re in.
“Because at the end of the day, you just chat about what you see and what you feel and what you think, and it’s great.”
Russell Howard & Mum: Globetrotters will premiere on Comedy Central UK on Wednesday, January 23.