Ross Noble on his Humournoid tour and memories of early Yorkshire gigs with Lee Evans, Jo Brand and more

Ross Noble is back on tour performing his spontaneous and often surreal brand of stand-up comedy. He speaks to John Blow as his Humournoid show comes to Yorkshire.

Ross Noble is raring to go.

The Newcastle-born, Northumberland-raised comedian has, like all of his contemporaries, been held back from performing during the pandemic.

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But after a string of homecoming gigs, his Humournoid tour stops off in Sheffield tonight and goes to Doncaster, Halifax and York next week.

Ross Noble pictured at the City Varieties, Leeds, in September 2012. Picture by Simon Hulme.

The comic has been touring continually since his teens, so it’s understandable that he’s itching to get back on the road with his spontaneous and often surreal brand of stand-up.

After theatres and other venues have suffered a torrid time financially, a lot is now resting on the shoulders of comedians, with a balance needed between entertaining people who have been starved of live performance and those who are still hesitant to go out to enjoy themselves.

“There’s people who are desperate to get back to how life was, but at the same time, you’ve also got to be sensible in how you do it,” says Noble.

“I want everyone to be safe when they come to a gig and if the whole audience want to wear a mask, I think that’s great. If that means that it slows down infections and it means that we don’t have to then suffer further impositions later down the line I think that’s great.

Promotional artwork for Ross Noble's Humournoid tour, which is coming to Yorkshire.

“Equally, I’m glad that people who have been unemployed all the backstage staff or front of house, brilliant that they’re working again, so it’s kind of that balance isn’t it?”

He adds: “I know everyone’s been doing it tough, but live venues, we were the first ones out and the last ones back in,” says Noble, 45.

The father-of-two e says that he is “philosophical” about these things, though.

“With everything in life, whenever something terrible happens, there’s always something good that comes out of it. You can look at it and you go well, ‘It’s absolutely catastrophic to have nearly two years out of the job that you’ve been doing since you were 15’.

“I think this is the way that most comedians responded to it.

“There’s some people who have looked at it and gone ‘This is absolutely catastrophic’ and sort of sat there and gone ‘This is a nightmare’ and got depressed about it, or you can look at it from the other way.

“I would never have been forced to take the time. Instead of just sitting around I’ve kind of gone and started working on other projects that I’ve kind of been meaning to get around to for ages, I just haven’t had the time. If even one of those things comes to fruition, that’s going to send me off in a completely different, new and exciting adventure that there wouldn’t have happened otherwise. I’m always one for looking on the bright side.”

His spare time has been spent on a YouTube show, The Unnatural History Show with Ross Noble and he has found it refreshing to create something that didn’t have to go through the lengthy approval process of the usual channels.

Now he is looking forward to the Yorkshire dates. But he says that any difference in how an audience takes to his work is about the room rather than the region.

“You can have you have two venues in the same city and they kind of react in different ways but that’s the room rather than the people,” he says.

Noble started comedy in the 1990s and many of his early gigs were in Yorkshire. He compered at the Comedy Shack at The Bonding Warehouse in York – which is also where he performed one of his of his first gigs at 15 or 16 – and the Lescar in Sheffield.

He can remember rubbing shoulders with the likes of Lee Evans, Jo Brand, Richard Morton and even Patrick Marber, who went on to become a respected playwright and screenwriter in a “hundred-seater room that used to flood, next to the river”.

He says: “It was so exciting. You had all these amazing acts that would then go on to be huge names in comedy, they were the headliners at the time. Getting to work with them was just brilliant.”

The landscape of comedy and what’s appropriate material to address on stage has also changed since then, and this topic has made its way into Humournoid.

“People in general have become a bit more aware of the meaning behind stuff.

“We’re all thinking about the consequences of what we’re saying. A lot of comics are whingeing about that – ‘We can’t say anything nowadays’ – but I quite like it. One of the things I’ve been exploring is: What can we say? How has this been interpreted? How is this coming across? Where’s the line? All of that. The shows that I’ve been doing recently, that’s been sort of a theme that’s been coming through.

“Because the way that we talk to each other has become so extreme and everyone’s shouting at each other, the way that people react to each other’s kind of changed, and also the fact that we’ve all been locked up. I think it’s made for more interesting shows.”

He adds: “I’m in quite a unique position. I’m playing around with ideas all the time. I can actually sort of play around with things, quite big ideas or stuff on people’s minds, but in a daft way, which is fun.”

Noble has branched out to other types of performing over the last 10 years, too. He made his film debut in the fantasy comedy horror movie Stitches in 2012.

Then in 2015 he made his musical theatre debut in The Producers, followed by his stint as Igor in Young Frankenstein in the West End, a role for which he was nominated in the Laurence Olivier Awards in 2018.

“I’m definitely going do more of that,” he says.

“I’ve got no immediate plans. Again, just because at the moment being in a big West End musical with that many people in the cast and that many people backstage, it’s not a safe bet. I’ll probably hang fire on that, but I’ve got a couple of things in that area which I’m working on at the moment, which hopefully should be seeing the light of day within the next couple of years.

So we shall see.”

He says that in stand-up, “being the only person in the cast is very much a benefit”.

Noble is father to daughters Elfie and Willow with his wife Fran, and the family live in her native Australia.

After their home was destroyed by the 2009 Victorian bush fires, they moved back to the UK for about 10 years but have since returned to live on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne.

It’s little wonder he’s so enthusiastic about this UK stretch of dates, then, including the run in his native North of England.

“It’s always nice to play the home town gig. There’s always excitement there. And also just being back as well. It’s actually happening!”

Humournoid comes to Doncaster, CAST tomorrow; Halifax, Victoria Theatre on Thursday; and York’s Grand Opera House on Saturday. Tickets and details are available from www.rossnoble.com.