Ross Noble has made his name by appearing on stage, having a bit of a chat with his audience and seeing what comes up. The average performance stands as a unique group experience, given his habit of being distracted away from the script whenever possible. “The best way to describe it is that it’s kind of whatever is in my head,” he tells me. “Rather than it being a scripted show, it’s like loads of cartoons dancing around inside my head and it’s how they all interact.” It’s a thing of wonder that anyone can come up with even a few of the madcap ideas he espouses, let alone keep hard at it for close to two hours.
He’ll talk to someone that captures his attention, which will throw up any number of subjects he can string together. What evolves is lurid imagery and streams of hilarious near-nonsense. “It’s a big lava lamp of ideas and I chuck it all in there. The audience’s energy level is how warm the oil is and what they’re like is how it’s all flowing! I tried to describe that to someone who hasn’t seen me live and they were like, ‘What?!’. You’ll understand because you’re a Brighton type and there are lava lamps in every shop!” He admits it’s easy to lose track of time when he’s in full flow, especially when his audience are urging him on. Now he brings his dreamy and hilarious brand of comedy out once more in his new show Brain Dump, which comes to Brighton Dome Thurs 8 – Fri 9 Dec. On stage he’s a careering bundle of joy, allowing his luxuriant imagination to spill out. As he unravels some elaborately imagined scenarios, his narrative only grows stronger. Greater leaps of logic take place, less reverence is paid to practiced comedy traditions and there’s further deviation from the original premise of the show, as he draws the audience further into the maelstrom of a mind in full-flow.
It’s not so much that he tries to win over audiences than gently batter them into submission with his ingenious stream of consciousness. “People are always saying, ‘It’s amazing how you remember all these things!’ but that’s only a skill in my line of work – the rest of the time it’s no help at all.” Even his wife is subjected to him drifting off into his own head sometimes. While she might be wary of him going into ‘screensaver mode’ when they’re talking, this habit has formed the basis of a very successful career. He lets slip that if the stand-up ambitions had never been realised, then he’d ideally be working in a DVD shop. “But then of course they don’t exist anymore! Or a film director, yeah I’ll just do that instead. Or working in a cinema.” Perhaps making films would be the only other perfect outlet for his lightning-speed whimsy.
It appears Noble holds a passion for films about real people in magical situations. He was even recently talking to a friend in the industry about a Neil Gaiman book he’d been reading to his kids. Called Fortunately, the Milk, he’d loved it so much he wanted to explore producing something with the story. “It turns out Johnny Depp’s bought the rights. It’s being written by someone brilliant and then it’s being directed by Edgar Wright. Not only has someone else had that idea but they’re going to do a much better job than me!”
Beyond the avalanche of improvisation, his act is very visual, as he roams the stage eagerly demonstrating his points with a flurry of arms and legs. Behind him, the sets often resemble the over-excited imagination of a young child. Comprised of giant and colourful inflatables, which are sometimes relevant to his routines, they bring a riotous air to the shows. Rather than throwing them away after a tour, Noble will usually store them in his shed. A practice only interrupted by a fire destroying many of the earliest ones. “The last five or six I’ve still got. I like to think that sometime in the future they’ll get found by archaeologists and they’ll think it’s some kind of flimsy, transient Stonehenge.”
What he deals out isn’t really indulgent surrealism. There is some form of narrative at play, and all the meanderings are simply strands being cleverly woven together. What he does is an art, and he’s worked tirelessly at developing it. As a kid, he was into the more classical end of the British comedy spectrum. Spike Milligan, Frankie Howerd and Ken Dodd a few of the names that emerge as benchmarks, but he leant more towards characters the folk club scene threw up. “The people I really grew up wanting to be like were Jasper Carrott, Richard Digance, Mike Harding, Mike Elliott from up in the North East, Billy Connolly and Max Boyce… They were usually blokes in donkey jackets with 70s hair and guitars.”
It’s now Noble’s 15th UK tour, and there’s no sign of him becoming jaded or stale. While liking the idea of doing shows into his silver years, he also concedes there’s dignity in admitting that you’re done. “However, I mentioned Ken Dodd before and he still loves it. He’s still putting just as much into it as he ever did. Then there are other people who basically should probably stop, because they can’t tell a joke anymore. I like the idea of just going one night ‘This is it!’”