Ross Noble is a genius. There is no real other way to describe him than that, and to do so would be a discredit.
He has appeared on shows such as QI and Have I Got News for You, released several DVDs, had his own series (the fantastic Freewheeling on Dave) and was named 10th greatest stand-up comedian of all time by Channel 4. Through all this, he also managed the impossible of appealing to both a mainstream and alternative comedy audience. Friday night’s performance showed why.
The performance starts with a song and dance number on a big screen about the sin of keeping one’s phone on during a show, and nothing else over the course of the 2 or so hours is scripted. In front of a set designed with giant lightbulbs, the symbolism of the spontaneity of ideas (referencing the cartoon appearance of lightbulbs above one’s head), Noble simply leaps from idea to idea without taking a break. His first is the idea of a flesh toboggan, brought about by seeing a latecomer attempt to make his way past those already seated and dances past masturbating hippos, a game show based around stealing from children, microwaving weasels and about a hundred other topics, all wonderful and bizarre and all fully improvised.
It’s a miraculous skill Noble has, to turn the slightest of reactions from the audience into perfectly formed and beautifully realised pieces of comedy gold. This is more than your typical “where are you from and what do you do?” approach to crowd work that makes so many lesser comics sound like they’re trying to have a first conversation during fresher’s week. As Noble himself says at one point, “he is obliged to follow every idea to it’s fullest point”, swimming down streams of conscience until every drop of humour and every laugh has been wrung from an idea (I apologise for mixing metaphors).
Furthermore, for material created on the spot, it’s so lean. Everything is a laugh line, there are no wasted words or ideas. Everything lands and everything gets a laugh from the packed room, that is also notable for the mixture of demographics, housing audience members of every age. There are few, if any, other comics currently working the country that can appeal so broadly, and yet be so incredibly oddball.
However, perhaps the most miraculous thing about seeing Noble perform is how structured the show becomes. He constructs a show so perfectly off the cuff in such a way that most comics can’t over years of writing for a one man show. Everything is linked, there are perfectly placed callbacks and nothing seems out of place.
Rare is the review, particularly in comedy, that there is nothing to slag, making the writing process that much more difficult and the ability to find those 600 words that much more elusive, but there really is nothing to criticise about Noble’s performance. Perhaps it was a fluke combination of willing audience and particular form, or perhaps it’s the ability he’s been showing consistently for more than twenty years, but this really was as close to the perfect comedy show as you’re likely to see.
And yes, I am jealous of his talent.