Review – Russell Howard, Wonderbox, Derngate, Northampton, 14th February 2014

Russell Howard WonderboxHere’s yet another in a series of comedy gigs we’ve attended where we were the only people in the theatre not to know who the comic was. I’ve heard of Russell Howard of course, and seen that he has his “Good News” programme on BBC3, but, like most TV programmes at the moment, we’ve never seen it. Younger people I know said “Oh, Russell Howard, great!” when I told them we were seeing him; older people said “Oh, not Russell Howard!” with the complete opposite reaction. And I think it’s fair to say, judging from the average age of the attendees at the Derngate last Friday, that he definitely appeals to a much younger, and much more female, demographic than, say Russell Kane.

Which is interesting, as I think the two Russells bear many similarities if you compare the two. They’re both the same age (born 1980); they’re both quite manic on stage, incorporating a lot of physical shenanigans, although Russell Kane’s is more the nervy, pacing, balletic twirling type and Russell Howard’s is more the sexual, hip-thrusting, “bumf**k” style. They’re both naturally very funny people, who are completely at ease with suspending what they were going to talk about, in order to take whatever tangent their audience demands – something I always admire in a comedian. They both talk about how whenever you visit the next venue on your tour, the locals will always say that their hometown is rubbish. Russell Howard had tweeted in advance that he was going to be in Northampton and what would the locals recommend he does whilst here; he read out some of the responses, and the first one was “leave”. What else? They both talk about sex, a lot; and they’re both called Russell.

Russell HowardHowever, whereas Russell Kane is quite a wordsmith in his own way, Russell Howard relies much more on old fashioned straightforward, ordinary conversational language, including intensive use of the f word. There’s a degree of sophistication in some of Russell Kane’s routines that I couldn’t really identify in Russell Howard’s. This is not a complaint, and I thought they were both funny in their own way; but there was a kind of (and this is going to sound very snobbish) “lowest common denominator” element to Russell Howard’s act, exemplified perhaps by his routines about his younger brother who, all his life, has waved his willy around whenever he has got excited about something, or extensive material about his embarrassed inability to poo in public, unless he runs a tap to mask the sound. I presume by “poo in public” he means using public lavatories and not in the middle of a municipal park. Actually that was a very funny sequence, comparing how girls all go to the loo together mob-handed without the remotest sense of self-consciousness, whereas guys have very fixed toilet etiquette that must never be transgressed: “Dave, I need a sh*t, come with me mate and run a tap for me”.

Russell Howard in manic moodHe uses the concept of the running gag really well; for example early on he mentions how he and his brother nicked his mother’s phone and changed all the contact names, so that she’d find she’d missed a call from George Michael, and so on. So whenever his mother gets mentioned for the next couple of hours, there’ll always be a throwaway phone joke as an aside. This gave Mrs Chrisparkle cause to wonder why is it that comics nearly always make their mothers sound stupid in jokes? Fathers are always knowing and wise; maybe brutal, maybe laddish; but mothers are inevitably dimwits. He did mess up one running gag though – right at the end of his act he was finishing a story and then came the killer punchline – and hardly anyone laughed; and that’s because he’d forgotten to set it up about fifteen minutes earlier. His embarrassment and subsequent explaining of how it had all gone wrong was probably funnier than the original line.

Other highlights of his act included a very recognisable impersonation of a dog desperate to go on a walk, an amusing conversation when a couple broke off from engaging on a (forgive me gentle reader) blowjob because they recognised him, and the endless fun you can have as a child playing with a slinky on the stairs. He also had several pops at the English Defence League, which can only be a good thing.

Russell Howard in thoughtful moodAfter his finale had kind of fallen apart, he stood a bit helpless for a second or two until a lady shouted out, “Can I have a hug?” at which she promptly jumped up on stage and clasped him to her bosom. Well that was like opening the sluice-gates. A couple of women ran all the way from their balcony seats so they could get to the stage and have a selfie with him. Other women started clamouring noisily for a little personal attention. A rather burly sounding blokey voice called out “can I have a hug too?” Fortunately we quickly moved away from the hug-in, as I had an awful feeling it was going to degenerate into a rather tedious celebrity-fest. In fact, Mr Howard had another finale up his sleeve which was rather heart-warming and a very nice way to finish the evening.

All in all, a very enjoyable evening spent with a very funny comedian, and the packed audience absolutely loved it. Perhaps on reflection he’s not 100% our cup of tea, but he knows precisely what his audience wants and he delivers it to their complete satisfaction. He’s touring round the country until March, he’s at the Royal Albert Hall in April, then he’s off to America, Australia and New Zealand, so the man is obviously in demand!

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