I’ve only ever seen Ross Noble on the panel of Have I Got News For You on TV, so we thought it was about time we got to see him do his stuff live. On HIGNFY he always seems to be hovering somewhere between complete fantasy and being totally grounded – quite an odd mix. So I wasn’t at all sure what we were about to receive, or, indeed, if we would be truly grateful.
Undercover use of mobile phones in theatres is really annoying, isn’t it? Even if you have it switched to silent, if you check it during the show, the glow emanates in all directions, even when you try to hide it. Ross Noble must have got right royally fed up with this practice, because I’ve never seen such an extended and to be fair very funny warning at the beginning of the show to turn the things off. But it did the trick – after that warning, no one dared keep their phone on. When the stage is finally revealed, it’s a most unusual sight that greets our eyes. At first I thought we were at the bottom of the sea, with resting octopuses drifting over into the front stalls and clinging to the walls like enormous limpets. Then I realised that we were in the deep recesses of a brain, with giant synapses and neurons and all sorts of brainwave interconnections trailing all over the place.
For this is Ross Noble’s Tangentleman show – a gentleman who goes off at a TANgent, presumably, sometimes returning to where he started, sometimes not. Trigonometrically speaking, he could have called himself COSignor maybe, or, at Christmas, SINta Claus. OK, not funny, but it’s the kind of mental fluidity you explore in two and a half hours in Mr Noble’s company. Fortunately, when Mr Noble does it, he is funny. So much so that the time absolutely flies by, and you realise that you’ve spent the entire evening appreciating absolutely nothing but candy floss, spun immaculately and tantalisingly by a master of language.
I confess it’s a really difficult show to write about, because there is so little of real substance in his material. You can try to commit a sequence of his humour to memory but it’s all incredibly hard to recall. It has an ethereal capacity – try to catch it and it’s barely there, a little bit like those wispy pieces of gauze that draped over naked ladies in 18th century pictures as recollected by Peter Cook and Dudley Moore in the 60s. The other fascinating aspect of the show is trying to work out how much of it is completely off the top of his head, and how much is pre-prepared. Without seeing the show a second time you can’t know for sure; but my guess is that he probably has a number of comedy modules in his head that can be trapped and used as a response to things that go on in the theatre. For certain, Mr Noble strikes up an amazing rapport with the audience, with at least 95% of what he says being reactions to what the audience throw at him (not merely heckles but general responses, even the level of sneezing). So surely each show will be very different – won’t it? We just both got the sense that it was – somehow – in parts – more structured and scripted than it seemed.
One of Mr Noble’s games he likes to play during the course of the evening is to offer good suggestions for internet passwords, witty nuggets of phraseology that come to mind that would work a dream securing your online identity. However, it is typical of the show that I can’t actually bring any to mind, but they grew out of an imaginary bingo sequence that knew no bounds. Other scenarios that came to light last night included John Craven spread-eagled against a Dry Stone Wall, clutching hold of the lichen whilst a farmer gave him continued rectal examinations (all of which would be relayed in sign language on See Hear); one of the most holy figures in world religions being stationed off stage and accidentally getting urinated on by Mr Noble in full flow (so to speak); a whale acting as an interpreter for his assistant Shaun mistranslating his words in order to satisfy his insatiable desire for lots of krill; and a strangely erotic sequence where Mr Noble gets to know an owl just a little too well.
He did also do a number of very funny observations about our dearly beloved hometown, including taking the rise out of our Cultural Quarter (nothing but artists and poets littering the streets), our beautiful Market Square fountain (with LEDs to light up the chavs) and the predominance of senior citizens being propelled willy-nilly on motorised bikes. It does sometimes take an outsider to reveal the truth about one’s own hometown. He finished with a brief Question and Answer session, but to be honest the audience were too knocked out with Mr Noble’s fantasy world to come up with much that was based in reality. Wisely someone asked him to finish a joke he’d started about 45 minutes previously, which was definitely worth the wait.
You need an acute sense of the ridiculous to really appreciate Ross Noble’s humour, and I must say I enjoyed his act very much. He’s touring the UK for the rest of February and then is touring Australia in March and April. If you like observational humour where a comic examines a situation, exposes its absurdities and reveals a universal truth which can inform all mankind, then Mr Noble probably isn’t for you. If you can interpret an owl’s hoot as provocative and sensual, you’ll have a great time.