Before his comedy show in Singapore on 28 May, Russell Howard talks to us about the three Bs: Blowjob jokes, Brexit and his hilarious brother
There's enough room for more than one Russell in comedy. Yet on this side of the world, Russell Peters rings more of a bell, coupled with guffaws of laughter when you throw back to the abuse, bullying and discrimination the Indian Canadian has made a mockery (and career) of. But there's another Russell in the entertainment biz that discerning comedy fans hold in high regard as well: Russell Howard.
The star of Mock The Week, Russell Howard's Good News and Russell Howard's Stand Up Central on Comedy Central — yes, the 37-year-old's famous enough to have his name in two show titles — is unapologetically British, politically-charged and irreverent in his stand-up routine. While the Bristol native's stage antics might be excruciatingly energetic for some, his chirpy mannerisms are a delight to follow. Together with Adrian Bohm Presents and LA Comedy Live, Howard's bringing his 2017 Round The World tour to Singapore, one of three stops in this region apart from Hong Kong and China.
Speaking on the phone with me after recovering from a sore throat, I subjected the comedian to a list of random questions — similar to his routine on Comedy Central where he pulled out audience questions from a box. I learned that the Camden-based lad saw some light at the end of the dark tunnels that are Donald Trump and Brexit, and could still put on a giddy Bristol accent when the occasion called for it.
What's the worst thing you can do to your throat? Sword swallowing is probably the worst thing you can do. I met a guy in America who is probably the oldest sword swallower in the world — self-proclaimed. He taught people how to swallow a sword over the Internet. That's the worst thing you can do: Learn to swallow a sword from a man you've never met.
You did a hilarious bit on your super posh neighbour, Roger. How's he doing now? He died two years ago. It's pretty hard because he's very much the spirit [of the place]. He's extraordinarily happy. He's one of those super posh guys, stupidly English. To be honest, he's not a million miles away from my mum. My mum doesn't care if the glass is half-full or half-empty, she's very much, "I've got a glass!". She's a pretty positive woman. That's what I love about him. He was almost the king of mindfulness, without realising it. He was always in the moment.
Speaking of your mum, what does she think of your career? She really enjoys it. She warmed up for me on stage at the Royal Albert Hall recently — she was singing Lady Gaga to check the mic. This is obviously before the crowds were in, but it's a pretty cool moment when your mum is singing along to Pokerface and nobody's asking her to leave.
What's it like making blowjob jokes in front of your mum? Completely fine. It's the same as listening to blowjob jokes from your mum. The tables have turned, really. We're a pretty open family. There's a bit ages ago which was pretty filthy, and I had to tone it down for the audience and Mum was like, "Why'd you tone it down?" There's nothing I can say that can shock my mum or dad.
There was a fight that broke out during your show in Glasgow recently. In your opinion, what's the best way to break up a fight? Well, I've got a security man. In this instance, it was so strange — there were 11,000 people there —and there was this going on. The rest of the crowd — it's such a Scottish reaction — went, "Crack on, go on". They just wanted me to carry on. It's very hard to do my job when someone's having a fight.
Are you expecting a more conservative crowd in Singapore? I have no idea. Normally when I do gigs in new places I get there nice and early, wander around and take the places in, and then regurgitate it on stage. I'll just watch my support act go on and see how the crowd reacts. It's kind of fun doing gigs where it's completely unknown, because I've been doing stand-up for so long and in England, people know what to expect. When I first started gigging in America, it was so cool. I had just done the O2 [in London] and a week later I was in New York in front of 30 people, and it was really exciting, because it felt like you're starting again.
What do you think is Donald Trump's best feature? I don't think that's a question that's ever been asked, is it? I guess his best feature is his complete inability to see what the outside world thinks about him. If you could have skin that thick, life would be extraordinary. Everyone hates him and he has no idea why they don't like him. It certainly isn't his hair. What I find baffling about Trump's hair, is that that doesn't happen by accident. It implies that the leader of the free world is there in the morning with his hairspray, and tongs — it looks like a squirrel died doing yoga.
On stage, would you rather literally: Take the piss or break a leg? Probably take the piss, I think. I've never done that as well. Could I piss on stage? Would I get stage fright? If push came to shove, I'd rather urinate than have my leg broken.
You could just call it performance art or something. That's correct. If I just start shrieking, hopefully Bjork from the crowd will drop an album.
Who's the funniest person you know? My brother. He's very much an acquired taste. We met a girl the other day in Nottingham and she had nine fingers. And my brother was like, "What's going on here?". She said, "My little finger got bitten off when I was a kid." And my brother was like, "You don't go to many rock gigs do you? You can't do the rock gesture." This girl just howled with laughter. I love the bravery of it. He can't not say what's in his head. All my friends are kind of wild, interesting and strange people. In a city of beige, I like hanging out with people who just go, "F*ck it, I'm saying it".
Do you get cautious when you joke about religion? Not really. I do a lot of jokes about religion in England where we gave up on that a long time ago (laughs). I think 60% of English people are atheist, the other 40% just didn't fill in the form.
Is there any topic that you avoid? Not really. I would never seek or try to deliberately upset somebody. But there's no topic I wouldn't joke about. I never want to consider myself a shock comic.
What's your secret to great sex? Tolerance. Patience. You need the right soundtrack playing. And I wouldn't miss to experiment.
What's Bristol like? I was walking down the street and a woman slapped my arse. She was about 60, and she essentially sexually abused me. She did it with a wink, and it was very sweet. That's Bristol. You should go there, it's a lovely place!
What's the best thing that's come out of Brexit? It would be my show. There was a lot of comedic resurgence — certainly in England — a lot of people knuckled down and started writing really good stuff about England. Because we're so divided now, I was really inspired by it all to do a comedy show that showed how much we love each other, rather than how much we hate each other.
Russell Howard's Round The World tour will come to Singapore on 28 May at the Kallang Theatre. For tickets, click here.