Ross Noble - Nobleism. Live at the Cliffs Pavilion, Southend - 8th October 2007.
Before we start, let’s get one fact straight, Ross Noble is a comedy genius.
Like Frank Skinner (see earlier post!), I go back further than I care to remember with Ross, and again it was at our local comedy club that he first came to my attention. As someone who has watched live comedy for over 20 years, seeing hundreds of acts in the process, Ross is probably the comedian I most admire. The vast majority of comedians turn up with the set memorised, heckler 'putdowns' written, and the jovial audience banter well scripted (and the next time they turn up you can hear it all again word-for-word!). Ross Noble however pretty much just turns up and wings it!
The evenings at the Joker comedy club where we were lucky enough to have Ross as a compere, will probably be the funniest nights the club will ever see. All Ross ever needed was to see something and he'd be off - someone's T-shirt, a bit of décor in the room, a late comer sloping in, anything! - a springboard into the ad-libbed pool of comedy, each topic providing a link to yet another piece of on the spot improvisation. There was always a bit of scripted material in the back pocket for emergencies, but to be honest, it was rarely needed. If you've never seen him perform, don't go thinking that the guy must be a lazy good fer nuthin’ who can’t be bothered to write material. The stuff he creates live before your eyes is nothing short of stunning, and every single show he performs is totally unique. How scary must that be?! Walking out to deliver two hours of carefully crafted material is probably nerve-wracking enough, but walking out to ad lib for two or three hours??!
Fast forward to today, and Ross is arguably the hottest comedy act on the ‘big venue’ circuit. Married to an Australian, he has set himself up with the perfect life -- 6 months in Oz, six months in the UK -- and in both countries the majority of that time is spent on tour. It's genuinely what he loves to do.
Unlike some comedians who move on to the big circuit, Ross has never felt obliged to reinvent his act for the large audience -- essentially he does what he always did in the small smokey clubs, just walk on stage and see what happens! The announcement of a new tour for most acts heralds the arrival of fresh material -- but with Ross you get that every night (bar the odd bit of scripted material shoehorned in). Back in 2002, my partner and I followed the Sonic Waffle tour for a bit, seeing four or five shows in the space of a couple of weeks, and every show was at least 90% different.
Noble’s ramblings were once again up to his usual high standard, he does close on 3 hours tonight, and the whole time he paces the stage, like a caged tiger looking for a way out. Caught in traffic on the way to the venue he tells us that he found himself stuck outside the Jehovah's Witness church in Southend, leaving his mind to wander on how they would react if he had to knock on their door in the event of an emergency… A line about his own funeral arrangements had a friend and I in serious trouble - both unable to control our laughing for several minutes after he had moved on! And all he said was he's thinking of being placed in a coffin with sausages down his trousers, a few chops down his pants and a pound of mince meat under a top hat. He said he liked the idea of everyone salivating as the coffin rolled slowly into the flames, roasting the contents to perfection…. You probably had to be there, but his overactive brain throws this stuff out all night long.
Nope, Ross is as good as ever, yet something has changed, and not for the better. Ross relies on his audience to provide him with the raw material for his act, but in the last couple of years a worrying trend has started. People (and for people read 'wacky student types') seem to have decided it's not good enough for Ross to get his comedy from unsuspecting subjects (couples arriving late, the woman in the front rows lovely scarf etc), and they now wants to be the 'stars' of the show. We've seen a marked rise in youngsters in the front few rows sporting stupid hats, knowing full well Ross won't be able to resist the bait. But the ridiculing of someone who wants to be ridiculed somehow is no longer fun. By far the most annoying trend has started during the half-time interval, where armies of wacky ones leave all manner of shite on the stage; funny notes (I use the word ‘funny’ in the loosest possible way), crappy homemade T-shirts, pieces of popcorn, sweets, you name it – whatever it is, they all have the same thing in common, they ain't funny. But like a junkie walking out to see 30 lines of coke set up for his pleasure, Ross can't help himself, and will always make a beeline for this tat. Tonight was the worst I’ve ever seen, the stage was covered, and it took him just over 45 minutes of the second half to work his way through all the rubbish that had been left there. The truth is, it's funny for one or two people in the audience (i.e. the twats who put it there), for everyone else it’s boring. How funny is someone's bus pass going to be for an audience of 1500 people? Of course the owner of the bus pass goes home feeling like ‘Charlie Big Potatoes’, thinking (wrongly) he was the star of the show.
The second half of Noble gigs are starting to become a bore I’m afraid, as he methodically works through these 'gifts' – and the rest of the audience loses out on 45 minutes that could have been filled with good material. And of course, each time he does it, he seals his fate for the next time he returns to the venue, as those who see it this time plan to get in on the act next time around.
How we got in this mess I don't really know -- Ross really shouldn't pander to these cretins, he has the audience in the palm of his hands and could stop the trend almost immediately, yet instead chooses to alienate the vast majority of his audience by allowing it to continue. Personally I'd walk on stage with a bin liner, chuck the fucking lot in and then carry on the act is normal... or better still have a stage hand walk out and clear it before returning for the second half.
Everyone I've spoken to who went to tonights gig has said the same thing (without any prompting from me) the first half was genius and the second half was tedious whilst he went through all the crap left on stage.
So there you have it, Ross still is a comedy genius, his new trendy audience however are far from it -- and are in danger of ruining his act for him.
Here's a clip of Ross in Action that you can view from the comfort of this blog, rather than hiking it over to You Tube.. enjoy!