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Monday, February 26, 2024

Ross Noble: ‘If you make enough money, you can’t be cancelled’ 

Ross Noble chats to Metro.co.uk about his run at the London Palladium, cancel culture, and his secret to life and comedy (Picture: Andy Hollingworth)

Meeting a friend for a two-hour long natter over coffee is a bit of a rarity, and conversation usually peaks at 30 minutes. A two-hour interview? Absolutely never happens. It was a shock, then, when I looked at the time and discovered Ross Noble was the exception to the rule.

The 47-year-old Northumberland-born comic’s conversation style is somewhat like his comedy: it goes off on fascinating, unexpected tangents.

At a recent run of his touring show Jibber Jabber Jamboree, which is coming to the London Palladium in March – a place he dubs the greatest comedy venue in the world – he went on one of these quintessentially Ross Noble comedy side quests.

‘I’d gone off on this long tangent, it was all over the place,’ Ross began, in his exclusive chat with Metro.co.uk. He’s sipping on a lime and soda in a busy hotel lobby, dressed for a run. He also warns me his top smells. (It doesn’t).

‘The audience were coming with me, they were following this idea, and it builds and it builds and there were more and more ideas coming in, it gets a big laugh. The laugh dies down, and a bloke in the audience goes: “Are you alright?”‘ he chuckles.

Ross’ favourite part of comedy is looking out into a (laughing) audience, and registering their confusion at how they got there. It’s even better when he doesn’t know himself, he says. His comedy is at its barebones a one-man masterclass in improvisation, and an insight into a creative mind like no other.

Ross improvises much of his sets in his trademark stream-of-consciousness style (Picture: Supplied)

‘I’ve never had an opening line. I’ve never had a plan of how the show is going to start. I walk on and see what happens,’ Ross explains, matter of fact, as if all comics do this (they absolutely do not).

On the way to a gig, Ross might hear something on the radio that triggers an hour’s content about flood pumps. It might be just five minutes the night after. After that, Ross will most likely be bored of flood pumps and move on.

While most comics would have no hair left at this heavy reliance on whim, Ross still has an extremelly healthy, if not slightly haphazard, mop.

But isn’t such a way of working somewhat…. Stressful? ‘No. Why would that be stressful?’ he responds, looking genuinely confused at the line of questioning.

‘You can make anything funny,’ he says. ‘You get to the point where once you know who you are on stage, being funny… you just do that.’

Not even a bit of nerves? ‘No, never,’ he insists. ‘The adrenaline isn’t nerves. It’s excitement. It’s because you’re about to do something fun, not frightening.’

Watch out Ronan Keating, we’ve got a rollercoaster analogy incoming.

Ross reminds me he’s been on the big stand-up rollercoaster most nights for the past 30 years – he knows the drill.’So when people say, “If you’re not nervous that’s when it’s over,” I think that’s slightly wrong,’ he adds.

That’s not to say Ross thinks he’s got the golden belly-laughing ticket to a good routine.

‘You never master stand up, it’s a journey,’ he explains. ‘But you’re a fool if you obsess about what’s going to happen. Thinking about what’s already happened serves no purpose. Being in the moment is the secret to doing a good show. But it’s also a secret to life.’  

Ross never gets nervous for the stage. Really(Picture:JOHN McMURTRIE)

It annoys him then, that since the pandemic audiences’ attention spans have got much worse. Ross’ biggest social and comedy bugbear is phones, he says.

Once, he even put an audience member’s phone in a glass of water when they wouldn’t turn it off. Little did Ross know, the phone would still work under water, leading to a moment of unexpected comedy perfection when it began to gargle.

Then there was the time when a fight broke out in the audience.

It was more a fascinating moral dilemma, Ross explains, after a ‘short-statured man’ told a large, rowdy woman to be quiet, and she hit him, leading to a fully-blown fight. The audience looked on in awe.

Looking back over the last 30 years, comedy has definitely changed. When Ross was at school in Cramlington, Northumberland, more kids wanted to be an astronaut than a comedian, he muses. It was only in the late 1990s and early 2000s when stand-up as an on-stage profession boomed into the mainstream consciousness.

Now, everyone and their dog is a TikTok comedian, and we’re retrospectively reviewing what used to tickle the nation’s funny bone, and what really shouldn’t have.

Ross reckons in 10 or 20 years time we’re going to look back at some of today’s content with wider eyes.

Celebrity Juice, fronted by Lee Francis playing the character of Keith Lemon, which ended just two years ago, is one example he gives.

‘Lee Francis is brilliant,’ Ross begins, ‘what’s brilliant about him is he’s managed to elevate the puerile to the point of art. 

‘The character of Keith Lemon when he started was this loser with a bandaged hand wearing these terrible shirts, he was a low status character who is not appealing to women, right?

‘But then as Celebrity Juice went further and further, Keith Lemon became more and more showbusiness, and because he hosts that show, the character started to get higher status. 

‘Keith Lemon would do these jokes to women on the show and behave in a sexist way, and you’d be like, “That’s a joke, because he’s low status and a loser and the women were laughing at him”. 

‘But what I started to notice is there were men on that show who started to join in on the jokes, men who were actors, and were being given permission to do stuff that you would…’ Ross trails off.

Ross isn’t worried about being cancelled, because he doesn’t set out to offend (Picture: JOHN McMURTRIE)

‘But I think we will look back even in 10 years time and completely re-evaluate.’  

He continues: ‘You can look at it now and think, this is wrong. This is not nice. Are there kids in the playground who don’t realise that’s a character?’

Ross assures me he’s not a social justice warrior. But he clearly thinks deeply, and takes a nuanced approach to the whole right or life, racist or ‘woke’ extremities. One thing he is not, is on the verge of extinction.

‘There’s too many comedians who are set in their ways and very quickly creeping towards becoming dinosaurs,’ Ross says, explaining how he welcomes criticism.

‘If somebody turns to me and goes, “You made that joke and it made me feel s**t,” I think that’s good.’

It might be that Ross is able to stand behind his jokes, once criticised. On one occasion, he made a self-confessed ‘silly’ joke about Peter Andre presenting GB News which got him online hate – but he stands by it.

‘I said, “GB news are so obsessed with gender politics and trans people, they’ve got Peter Andre on because they can be their mysterious girl correspondent,”‘ Ross explains, adding that he was called a choice four-letter word on Twitter in response.

‘Now that is a stupid, silly joke. He had a song called Mysterious Girl, and there’s a load of people on GB News, who are absolutely obsessed – obsessed – with gender politics. So I took his hit Mysterious Girl and people who have got a problem with trans people, and I just merged the two together.

‘Can I break that down and justify why I said it? To me, the target of the joke was a news channel that has Peter Andre on it. Is that really a news channel? And a news channel that obsessively talks about one particular issue.’

However, there have been times when Ross has told jokes that he admits he perhaps wouldn’t now. 

‘I’ve got no interest in upsetting people, but equally if I do upset people then I will take it on a case-by-case basis,’ he says.

In essence though, Ross isn’t worried about being cancelled, because he doesn’t set out to be controversial.

‘What I don’t like at the moment, is the defence of, “these are just jokes, you should be allowed to say anything you want”. I think you should think about what you say. If you’re going to say something you have to be able to stand behind it,’ he explains. 

‘If these mean-spirited jokes are deliberately being said, and you’re saying, “I’m playing character of an idiot,” I think that’s kind of a defence, but at the same time you have to think about what if somebody goes into their workplace or down the pub and repeats those words out of context, then how does that affect other people? There’s no answer.’  

Indeed. It’s a conversation that could go on for hours, swinging from side-to-side like a pendulum. But the most interesting one I’ve ever had on the subject. Nuance, people.

Ross thinks if you’re making someone lots of money, you will not be cancelled (Picture: Getty Images)

One thing that isn’t too nuanced though, Ross thinks, is that if you’re making people enough money, you simply cannot be cancelled.

‘It’s amazing how quickly the whole concept of being cancelled disappears. That’s the aspect nobody talks about,’ he says. 

‘When it comes to comedians being cancelled, it’s as much to do with money as it is with ethics.’

Ross continues: ‘Dave Chappelle, Ricky Gervais? They’ve got to the point where they make so much money for the people that buy their product, you can’t cancel them.

‘If Netflix were to turn around and say, “Wow, we think it’s offensive,” they would shrug their shoulders and go to the next streaming platforms. 

Ross uses Piers Morgan as another example. He left ITV after an on-air rant about Meghan Markle while hosting Good Morning Britain, saying ‘freedom of speech’ was a hill he was ‘happy to die on’.

Except he didn’t die on any hill. In fact, he’s been waving a flag at the top for the nation to see for years, hosting TalkTV every weeknight until just days ago when he left to focus on YouTube – on which he has 2.3million subscribers.

Tangent alert.

‘Nowadays it’s not good enough to go, “It’s just jokes, stop talking.” You’ve got to think about these things, otherwise you just become a dinosaur,’ Ross concludes.

Much like Ross’ philosophy on comedy and life, you’ve got to live in the now.

Ross Noble brings his Jibber Jabber Jamboree stand-up tour to the London Palladium for two nights on 14 and 15 March. Tickets at rossnoble.com.

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If you’ve got a celebrity story, video or pictures get in touch with the Metro.co.uk entertainment team by emailing us [email protected], calling 020 3615 2145 or by visiting our Submit Stuff page – we’d love to hear from you.


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