He’s come a long way since testing the comedic waters as a cheeky 18-year-old on stage at Jesters Comedy Club in Bristol, UK – and now the lovable blonde who won over the nation with his hilarious take on everyday characters and situations is about to take the world – and Hong Kong – by storm with his biggest global comedy tour. Aptly named ‘ROUND THE WORLD’, the jam-packed tour sees him performing in 11 countries and 29 cities, hitting the 852 on May 27. Ladies and gentlemen, please put your hands together for the amazing RUSSELL HOWARD!
You’ve come a long way since that Jesters gig, when did you first realise you were hilarious?
Ah I dunno, everyone’s funny aren’t they? When I was at school me and my friends were always kind of silly and I was always kind of obsessed with the idea of being a stand-up from a very early age. I was really into Lee Evans, Billy Connolly, and shows like Have I Got News for You, and I used to watch them with my dad, so I think it was just my surroundings and my desire to make my dad laugh. That was the whole point really – to make dad laugh. And now he’s really into it.
Tell us about the first material you wrote
I used to write jokes when I was about 14 or 15. I’d be in my room just writing funny stuff and I remember the day before I did my first ever gig, I was with my (then) girlfriend and performed a 15-minute set of all the things I was going to talk about, and then I went and performed it the next day. It had all been building up to that moment on stage – and it felt amazing to finally get there! It’s funny because I’d be writing those jokes for ages, but when I look back now, they were so bad [laughs]. I’d say things like, “You know when you’re trying to get a beer outside and you’re like, ‘Mate, go into that off license for us won’t you?’ and the bloody bloke won’t go in and you’re like, ‘What’s his problem?’. It was like a 14-year-old trying to be an adult.
But you got there in the end, and that’s all that matters. And now you have brilliant observations like “radiator pants” (my all time favourite)
It’s that lovely thing isn’t it, they are genuinely one of the greatest things in the world – radiator pants and a morning hot butt! It really doesn’t get any better than that. Little cotton buds in your ear and your hot, toasty pants – sensational! [laughs]
A lot of your material comes observing people from your childhood (your brother in particular) and the “crazy, wild gatherings” you used to have. Do people mind being the butt of your jokes, and do you ever run your material by them first?
To be honest my brother doesn’t care, and what I love so much about Daniel is that he’ll come to so many of my gigs and just loves being part of it all. He would never lower himself to go on stage and whore himself out like I do, because he’s more than happy just being funny and hanging around with his mates, and he loves watching it from the audience. My mum is absolutely fine with everything too. We did a little travel show last year on Comedy Central in the UK, and she’s in it. People really took to her and there’s this lovely feeling when people go, “Oh my God, wow, he hasn’t been making it up!” She’s so wonderful. I would never do anything that was unnecessarily callous to my family, it’s always a celebration of them.
You seem like a real family guy at heart. Would you say they are your greatest inspiration?
Yeah. I had a real moment when I was at my grandad’s funeral. He passed away the same day that Trump was elected, so it was a pretty sad day. What was odd about it was that in the middle of all the wake, everyone was laughing and joking, and I had a moment when I was looking around at all these bony faced people who looked exactly like me and I felt so proud to be connected to them, and all the stories that were told are the same ones I share with my friends. It’s always been about talking about what I know and love – a really warm, mental, insane bunch of people that happen to be my family … and I’m the normal one that’s kind of on the outside looking in.
You say that when you’re doing stand-up it’s the “most glorious hour” and you’re an X-Men version of yourself. Has it always felt that fantastic or did that feeling grow with your success?
To be honest it happened the first time I ever performed. Not to sound too corny, but there’s this scene in Interview with the Vampire where Brad Pitt becomes a vampire for the first time and his eyes are all green – oddly that’s the only way of describing that feeling when I’m on stage. It’s like the first time you do a gig and you think to yourself – this is it, this is everything I’ve been looking for, this is a mechanism through which I can do life. It’s such an amazing feeling – like the first time you put the brush on the canvas and you get it right and you go, “Woooah, I have a natural ability!” I haven’t found anything that’s as much fun, and when you engage in stand-up, there are moments where you get lost in the laughter, and these are the best moments in life. We all have them and they’re just beautiful – it’s like when you’re with your friends or family or whoever and you’re crying with laughter all time stops and you’re just kind of in this weird and wonderful world of giggles. It’s the best place ever, so if you find yourself being the conductor of that, it’s f****** amazing! It really is!
It must feel amazing then to perform to a crowd of thousands, but do you ever get nervous before hitting the stage?
It’s funny actually, I went to Manchester the other day and I think there were about 14,000 people in the audience, and I looked out and I was properly excited. I was just like – yes, yes, this is going to be great! When you first start playing at arenas, it’s pretty nerve-wracking and you’re thinking – how’s this all going to work?, but then you realise that people are just people – they’re just us, and then you start really enjoying it. So now I love it. My dad was actually there with all his workmates as well, so I just thought – this is going to be really good fun. What I do find hard sometimes is life, because if you’ve just done a gig to 14,000 people, it’s quite hard to then just watch TV or pop to the shops as you have to do – you can’t live in that world of giggles forever.
And of course life is where you get your material – from observing people and situations?
Yeah, exactly. And that’s another reason why I like heading to different places as well as doing gigs in England. It’s a lot of fun going to Europe for the first time, or doing gigs in America or Hong Kong because when you have around 200 people in a room, it’s fine – you can have a chat, and you can learn so much more about the place and the people. I have my anonymity in these places so I can hang out with some people in a bar in Sweden and talk about politics, or whatever. And that’s slightly harder to do in England now because I’m more famous there.
You’ve been to Hong Kong before (performing at Udderbelly in 2016). What do you think of the city?
Oh I love it, I really enjoyed it. I was just blown away by the pace of the place and how much was going on – all the noise, the slurping, the car horns, then suddenly seeing an old lady pushing a dog in a pram! And then having kids singing karaoke really loud and being a part of it all. I loved it, and found it utterly bewildering! The gigs in Hong Kong are crazy and great – this one person brought a massive six-foot tall bear with them to the show and sat it next to them, so I took it off them and put in on my chair on stage and did this whole weird double act for the entire show. It was really funny, but I can’t remember any of it. I literally have no idea what I did because it was this lovely, small, weird little gig. [laughs] Who brings a giant bear to a comedy show? (only in Hong Kong!)
So do you have to tailor your material a lot to cater for a Hong Kong audience – or any country you perform in?
I think you just have to move things around, so you just look at the lay of the land and think, is this relevant here? Will this thing work? Like, I have a really funny thing about the Old MacDonald Had A Farm nursery rhyme, but that’s only really funny if people know the song. So it’s little things like that that I have to check beforehand and then it’s a case of just going on stage and mixing it all together really.
Your new tour has you performing in 29 cities in 11 countries. That’s a pretty tiring schedule, how do you relax while you’re on the road?
Film and music are the main things really, but we do have these occasional ‘Gatsby days’ where we do something mental and go off to a secret cinema, or a cool club, or play indoor golf of go go-karting. We just kind of do weird and wacky things … we live like 15-year-old boys, [laughs] it’s depressing!
Your voice must get tired with such a hectic schedule. Do you have a special warm up routine before you hit the stage?
Well because I’ve got this sore, infected throat at the moment, I have to do this kind of [starts singing warm up scales in a theatrical tone]. It’s so embarrassing and awful, but that’s one of the good things about me not doing comedy clubs at the moment, because if I was doing that in a comedy club I would have the piss ripped out of me. Also, when I’m screaming and shouting, I’m a bit like Liam Gallagher so I have to retrain my voice – it’s really odd. But hopefully when I’m doing this sort of gig, it’s a bit more relaxed and I can have some fun.
You’ve hosted and featured in numerous TV shows, but which do you prefer – performing on stage or for the camera?
With Good News, [Russell’s hit satirical news show] I loved creating something tangible based on issues in the UK, where we would record it and it had a life of its own and get millions of hits. I liked that because there is sometimes that thing with being on stage where it’s very exciting and so much fun, but then it all kind of evaporates (like the show with the six-foot bear). It’s all about the people, and it’s a really fun night, but it will never be again, and that’s both the beauty and the curse of stand-up. You can walk out of a gig and not remember the best bits – that’s just what happens, but with TV – if you get it right – you can hold on to it forever. I’m sort of torn between the two really.
What’s the weirdest thing a fan has ever given to you?[Laughs] Well I wouldn’t call her a fan, but a woman once threw a dildo at me at a gig and it slapped me in the face, so I had a c*** shaped bruise. And then it got me to question, “How little faith do you have to have in an entertainer to bring a sex toy along with you? [laughs] I think that was the strangest thing. I was also given a cake backstage once that had my face on it, and I did NOT take a bite out of that thing because I think it would have been absolutely riddled with Rohypnol!
Well, we won’t bake you a cake then, but we may bring a stuffed toy along to your Hong Kong show!
Catch Russell LIVE in Hong Kong!
The ‘ROUND THE WORLD’ tour comes to the Academic Community Hall, Hong Kong Baptist University, on Saturday, May 27.
Tickets cost $488 to $888 and are available to buy at HKTicketing.
Click here for more information.
Read more! Spend Five Minutes With some of Hong Kong’s most colourful characters.