English comedian Ross Noble is in Adelaide doing a run of shows – and he’s having the time of his life. “There’s been no gigs for a year, so I’ve come back and I’m enjoying being back on stage and the audience feels the same – everyone’s had a break and now it’s good, let’s go!”
Ross is an honorary Aussie, based out of Melbourne these days. “Which is funny,” Ross says. “because currently, Arj Barker [an American expat] lives over here as well, so at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival – oh, and Lloyd Langford as well – I’m thinking to myself, Lloyd and Arj, we all live here but strictly speaking we’re still international. So yeah, that’ll do.”
Coming up to the MICF – and given the intense lockdowns Victoria has experienced – Ross is chomping at the bit to get back on the stage in his adopted state. Chuckling, he says, “I was a little bit worried that audiences might have been nervous to go out and be in a public space again. But if the Melbourne crowds are anything like the Adelaide lot then yeah, I think we should be fine.”
He’s calling the show a “comeback”, but only because COVID forced everybody underground, not because Ross has been anywhere – and hearing that makes Ross laugh. “Yeah, that’s the joke!” he says. “I just thought it would be funny that like, literally, every performer in the world has been forced to stop. So yeah, I thought it would be funny to call it a comeback special when it’s only been a year!”
“Even though it’s been catastrophic on the live thing, I’ve been productive elsewhere.”
Ross’ brand of comedy has always been very off the cuff – another joke with himself Ross must have as he starts chuckling again. He is, though, adept at running with any kind of structure, be it on the fly, feeding off his audience or a scripted work. “Well, the difference with this Melbourne show is – normally I do two-hour shows – but because of all the COVID, I’m what is the standard festival format, which is one hour.
“Doing an hour is a very different pace, so you don’t have to be thinking about if the second half might change the vibe or whatever.
“I’d like to say there’s going to be a structure, but it changes all the time, you know?”
As for the thematic content Ross will try and bring to the stage: “I think the problem, for me, with a lot of the modern festival-type shows, is, people come out and say 'this is what the show is about', then proceed to tell you a load of things about themselves and I think people sort of look at it and go ‘That show’s got a theme’, you know?
“Whereas I think, if you’re a strong enough performer, when you really know who you are and you’re being yourself on stage – albeit a heightened version – all the things you talk about? That’s your theme.
“Like characters in films – the ones that come out and say 'this is what I think, this is who I am', in stand-up I look at it and I go, ‘What people tell you and people say about themselves is what they want you to see, like, this is theme’. But it’s what people don’t say.
“If you come to see my show, if I talk about something like, I dunno, sponges, you’ll find out. . . I think you’ll learn more about somebody when they’re just being, than them saying 'this is who I am and what I think'.
“I never set out to go ‘This is what the show’s about’.”
Ross Noble plays Melbourne Town Hall (Melbourne International Comedy Festival) 25 March-17 April.