"If any room is full, it's fine. That's always your big show. If you're playing to 300 and it's full, it's amazing. Or if you came to 12,000 and it's full, it's kind of amazing. So that's kind of the key, really. As long as you get there and there's people who are up for a good time."
– Russell Howard
Guy MacPherson: How are you?
Russell Howard: I'm doing very well, thank you.
RH: Uh, no. No, I'm good, man. I mean, I'm in Nashville. We were in L.A. for a week and then Atlanta last night, so I kind of feel on with it. But I've stayed in so many hotels, I don't remember which room is mine (laughs) so I'm kinda walking along and I'm just going to put my card against every door that I see.
GM: You'll eventually get it.
RH: I will eventually, yeah. How are you?
GM: Good. This should be called The Jetlag Tour or the Anonymous Hotel Tour.
RH: Yes. The Where Am I Staying Tour. The Point Me Where My Bed Is Tour.
GM: It's the craziest tour I've ever seen. Has there been another one like it?
RH: Yeah. But it's very strange to kinda go from a 12,000-seater in Leeds in England and then the next gig was 300 people in Ottawa. But it was great. It was great fun. That's the brilliant thing about standup. I love doing it and I really love travelling. Travelling with standup is such a brilliant way to experience the world because you wander around cities you've never been, go to places you've never been and you kind of have chats with people in bars and your kind of standup evolves and your kind of world view evolves, and at the end of the night you've got people in a room to go and chat to. So it's kind of the perfect holiday for me.
GM: But do you get much chance to wander around and chat to people in bars when you're on the go as much as you are on this tour?
RH: It sort of depends from place to place. It's what's available but yeah, you still get a chance to kind of have down time and, you know, hang out after shows and kind of have a chat with people. It's cool.
GM: You mentioned the big theatres and arenas, and then going to play in Ottawa for 300 people. That's the situation in Vancouver, as well. I say that's lucky for us because it's something special to see somebody in a little more intimate of a venue.
RH: Yeah. Well, it sort of depends on your relationship with the performer. The key thing, if any room is full, it's fine. That's always your big show. If you're playing to 300 and it's full, it's amazing. Or if you came to 12,000 and it's full, it's kind of amazing. So that's kind of the key, really. As long as you get there and there's people who are up for a good time... We did a gig in Atlanta yesterday and there was kinda 200, and it was kind of amazing. But then also doing, like, 18,000 people in Manchester was one of my favourite nights of the tour because it was wicked in the round. It's this kind of all-powerful monologue and you're just blasting out and the laughs are just kind of smashing against you and you can hear it roaring. So there's a lot to be said for that as a performer. I kinda like both. I love the kind of sparring sessions and the intimacy of kind of a small gig and you can improvise with the crowd and you can wander off and chat. But then there's something quite cool about being in this kind of massive room and the music's up and da-da-da and then you go out and just go BANG-BANG-BANG and the laughter roars back at you. They're both fun. I guess it's a bit like playing in the Champions League for Liverpool on one day and then you're doing a friendly somewhere where people don't know who you are but ultimately you're still playing football so you're still having fun.
GM: I would imagine the approach for your standup is slightly different given the size of the room.
RH: Oh certainly. But in the U.S. and Canada, it's very different because there's stuff that works in England. I've got two hours of stuff from this tour but I don't want to be that guy that kind of just(robotically), 'Here are the jokes that work in England.' You know, I kind of want to talk about where I am and kind of chat the crowd. And I kind of want to create as I go. I'm doing a Netflix show the end of this tour and will have been to America and Europe and China and Australia, and I just want it to have a more global approach to standup so wasn't just (robotically), 'These are the jokes that work in England.'
GM: I'd guess you'd have to adjust your references slightly for each country.
RH: Yeah. Sometimes it's references; sometimes it's just things don't work, they just don't connect, you know? There's jokes that work in England that just don't work over here. It's kind of fascinating. There's kinda no rhyme nor reason to it; you just go, 'Oh, that's interesting. Wow. It's a really huge bit in England but it doesn't quite work here. Okay.' But then there's bits here that kind of absolutely smash that just wouldn't work in England. I remember on the last American tour I was chatting about my impression of New York and I had one line like, 'New York's so good they named it twice. Well, did they or did they have to repeat themselves because you wouldn't shut the fuck up?' I was commenting on how loud a place it was. And it was really funny to Americans and people who'd been to New York. And then of course you do that in England and it's like, 'New York is an amazing place!' It's kinda that fascinating thing, your perception of New York is different because you've never been there so you don't know the reality that it's fun but also terrifying.
GM: It keeps it fresh for you, I guess, having to jiggle things around. Because I imagine, too, that with the number of stops on your tour, there's a danger of you getting sick of your own act by the time you get halfway through.
RH: Exactly, yeah. I would hate to be one of those comedians that just kept on doing the same old stuff. The tour is already different from the warm-up gigs that I started doing in September, doing low-key shows around England. The show's already different than how it started and it will be different at the end because the world changes, the news is different. We're always kind of evolving. And also hopefully there'll be more anecdotes or stuff from being in Canada or being in Norway or being in China and all those kind of experiences.
GM: You've done so much TV work, was it hard to keep up with your standup, keep devoted to it?
RH: Yeah. What I did when I did telly, I kinda just concentrated on one thing so I just did the TV show. And then when I wasn't doing a TV show, I'd kinda work on new standup. But I wasn't gigging when I was doing the show just because it was so all-encompassing. I'm not very good at compartmentalizing so everything had to go into one. And that's kind of the beauty at the minute: I've got a new TV show that starts in September. I can put all my energies into standup [now]. But I also really enjoyed the break from it. You kind of get a new lust to go out. So this is my first proper standup tour in two years... Three years, actually. Yeah, so it's really nice. I've done shows in between, probably 50 shows a year, but this has been the first time in three years where I'm gigging like I was when I was younger, where I was doing, like, 300 shows a year and just kinda constantly working.
GM: Has being on TV changed your club set at all?
RH: Yeah, yeah. The fascinating thing about TV is you get access to a very diverse crowd and then you get people you'd never see in a comedy club coming to see you, which is really cool. You have a very different audience only because they have an idea of what you talk about on TV. You can go a bit further and they know where you operate and what you're going to talk about so you kind of feel like you have a relationship so you can push it a bit further because they're kind of like your mates. When you're doing club comedy and people don't know you, you've got to convince them to be your friend and then you can push them a bit further. So it's a lovely thing where they go, 'Hey, it's Russ.' There's a comfort between us.
GM: There have been four Vancouver comedians on your Good News show. Can you name them?
RH: Okay, let me see if I can guess. Let me guess... Glenn Wool?
GM: Glenn, yes.
RH: Uh... dah, dah dah, dah... Craig Campbell?
RH: Yes. Um, let me think... Oh, I know, Pete Johansson?
RH: And... and... and... Oh! Jason John Whitehead.
RH: Oh, really?
GM: He's Canadian but never was a Vancouver comic, that I know of.
RH: Okay, who's the other one?
GM: Dana Alexander.
RH: Ah, fuck! There you go. Three out of four ain't bad, though.
GM: Not bad, not bad. Yeah, a lot of Canadian comics over there. Stewart Francis is another one. Brilliant guy.
RH: Yes, a wonderful comedian. Yeah, that's a pretty good pedigree of comics. That's a helluva bill you could put on. It'd be a great show.
GM: They should tour.
RH: Glenn, Craig and Stew did a tour together and then they took it in turns to open and close. And they would have a guest on in every town and I was one of the guests in London. They said I was from somewhere in Ontario. The whole premise was that I had to be this Canadian guy. It was great. I go way back with all of those guys, especially with Craig. Craig's kind of an old friend of mine. When he first came over to England, I was doing [garbled] in Bristol. He lived in Bristol. He was the king of our local circuit. I've seen him do absolutely brilliant. Wonderful comic. And Stew said a very lovely thing to me when I was young. I did a gig in Ireland and he came up to me. He's kind of got that lovely dad approach. He went, 'I'm tapping you with my wand.' I said, 'What's that?' He went, 'My star wand.' 'What are you talking about?' 'I've only tapped two people with this star wand before. Now you've been tapped. Don't let me down.' So yeah. I didn't know they were from there. How cool.
GM: You saw the young clean-shaven Craig Campbell?
RH: Um, no, no. He was hairy when he arrived. I've seen him a couple of times without the beard. I've seen pictures of him and he looked like Tom Cruise but never in the flesh. I have seen Craig urinate on the side of a car and say it's legal, and I said, 'I'm not sure about that, Craig. I'm not sure.'
GM: You broke a record playing the Royal Albert Hall ten consecutive nights. Was that your intention going in or did it just work out that way?
RH: No, we were going to do the O2. The O2 is like the biggest venue in the UK but the sound is so appalling, it's so shit. I've done it in the past and every time you kind of come away going [heavy sigh]. If I'd watched it and was way back, it would be bad. So is there another venue that we can do? And the Albert Hall is 5,000 seats so we kinda figured out and went great, let's just do a run there. It kinda worked out. I think it was halfway through it and they were like, 'We're going to beat the record if we sell them all.' All right, cool. And it was held by Barry Manilow and Frank Sinatra. It's pretty silly, isn't it? My mom was very proud. The point is, it's so well designed and they're so close to you, and we did it in the round, that there genuinely aren't bad seats in there. It's just this fantastically tight building. It just made more sense to do the show there than the O2, really.
GM: There's not a bad seat unless they're staring at your ass.
RH: That is true, but if you keep spinning and pirouetting, there's an odd energy to it. I dunno, it kinda works. I was skeptical at first but there's something about it. It was a really interesting experience.
GM: I asked Eddie Izzard a few years ago if playing arenas was a pissing contest, trying to outdo other comics. He said, 'Yeah, that's exactly what it is. I mean, it's got ego in there.'
RH: He freaked me out once. I met him backstage at a gig. I was about to go onstage in Montreal and he said, 'How many arena gigs have you done?' I said, 'I don't know.' And he said, 'I've done nineteen.' Yeah, okay. So maybe that's with Eddie. And yet in my head I'm going, 'Fucking, that was Eddie Izzard!' So yeah, I just like doing the gigs. And to be honest, someone like Michael McIntyre or Peter Kay far outsell anyone so it's not worth worrying about. They sell the most tickets in the UK by a country mile. Yesterday in Atlanta, the very fact there was a room full of people waiting for me, it's just great. And any room where there's people and they want to see you, it's real pinch-yourself stuff, you know, so I'm not really fussed.
GM: Is the worst part of the tour missing your dogs?
RH: I've only got one dog. Yeah, I miss my dog, I miss my girlfriend. But then also it's good for me. I have such wanderlust, I have to get it out of my system. I'm pretty bad when I'm not doing stuff. So I think my girlfriend prefers it when I'm working, when I'm busy. I find it very hard to do normal life. In a sense, if you've been doing arenas for two months in England, you're going to be bad company to sit around so it's better for me to be brought down to earth and do a gig in Nashville in front of 150 people.
GM: I had heard you were obsessed with dogs.
RH: Oh, no, I am, yeah. Christ. I love my dog. And I love my girlfriend.
GM: Yeah, you gotta mention the girlfriend, too.
RH: You certainly do, mate.
GM: What kind of dog do you have?
RH: I have a jack russell. He's called Archie.
GM: Oh, that's right. I read that.
RH: He's a little fellow but he believes he's a lot bigger than he is. If anyone's got an ego, it's my dog.
GM: Is your show the same length of time no matter the venue size?
RH: No. I did two hours and four minutes in Ottawa and they were flashing a light and the staff were like, 'We have to leave. There's going to be a fine unless we leave.' And I hadn't got through half my stuff but they were a very interesting crowd. But yeah, it kinda varies between like an hour to like an hour-forty, really. It kind of just depends. In England it was kinda running at about sort of an hour-forty. That was before the full show. But it's slightly more relaxed here. There are bits I move and bits I don't do. But I think at some of the venues we have to do an hour because we're doing two shows. So the first show will probably be quite tight and then the second one will be a bit more relaxed, you know?
GM: You're doing two shows in Vancouver. So big fans will go to the second show, I guess.
RH: Well, hopefully big fans will come to both.
GM: But if they want a bit more Russell Howard.
RH: Okay, if they want a bit more.
GM: Do you have an opener?
RH: I do. I have a local guy whose name I don't know. I really like that, as well. Basically wherever we've been, we've had local guys and girls. So basically the local promoter will suggest an up-and-comer. And we've had some absolutely brilliant people on and we've had some absolute shit (laughs).
GM: As you know from your guests on Good News, Vancouver produces some pretty good comedians.
RH: Well, this is it. Christ, yeah. If we get a young Craig Campbell or Stewart, then it'll be an amazing show. I just prefer it that way. And also it's just that nice thing that you can hang out and get a feel for the city. You can chat with somebody and figure it out. We're doing it all across Europe as well. It's so much easier rather than just having two English guys fly in and tell everyone about England. It's just a bit boring. Yesterday, we had this really great comedian called Dedrick [Flynn]. This Atlanta guy with such brilliant energy who was unlike any opener I've had. It just makes the gig fascinating. He literally walked on and went, 'Let me get a Hey motherfucker, hey motherfucker, hey!' The crowd went, 'Hey motherfucker, hey motherfucker, hey!' And the gig was off. And you're like, I've never seen that in England. The very fact that he did start it like that instantly made it fascinating and different and gave you something to chat about. I was talking about the likelihood of Dedrick being able to convince a crowd to holler the word 'motherfucker' in England. Instantly it becomes kinda unique and you're not just some guy regurgitating what he's said a thousand times.
GM: It's great that you listen to the openers.
RH: Oh yeah, Christ yeah. I'm a fan of comedy. There was a girl called Amy Miller that was on our tour who was absolutely brilliant. I actually kinda mentioned her to my promoters in America and she's now with them. I said, 'You've got to check this girl out, she's fantastic.' It's kind of what happens all around. Years ago doing gigs with Craig, he'd get you on: 'Do you want to do a show? Do you want to go on in the middle?' You're like, 'Yeah, great.' It's kind of the one thing that shall forever be, that comics get gigs for comics. We'll always be in need of gigs.