Acclaimed comedy legend Ross Noble has returned to his first love – live comedy. The supreme master of stream-of-conscious freewheeling stand-up is back with his 21st tour, Jibber Jabber Jamboree, with Noble inviting audiences to join him for an evening of gloriously nonsensical improvised comedy – which may or may not feature a theatrical tribute to Mr T...
On what audiences can expect from his new tour, Ross said: “It will be a playful experience for young and old. Imagine watching someone create a magic carpet on an enchanted loom. Oh, hang on… magic carpets fly, that would smash the loom as it took flight. I haven’t thought that through… That’s what people can expect. Razor sharp observations on things I haven’t thought through.”
Ahead of the brand new 57-date UK tour, running from October 25 to March 17 – with shows at Portsmouth’s New Theatre Royal (November 4), Winchester’s Theatre Royal (November 5), Guildford’s G Live (November 9), Basingstoke’s The Anvil (February 8), and Aldershot’s Princes Hall (February 22) – we caught up with the comic to find out why fans imagine him as a centaur, Lord Sugar fears working with him and comedians who sit down onstage need to ‘get up and put some effort in’!
Jibber Jabber Jamboree is your 21st tour. How do you think the Ross Noble with 20 tours under his belt differs from the Ross Noble on his first tour?
Ross: I’ve got significantly better hotel accommodation. That’s the main thing. Also, there are people coming to see me now who came with their parents when they were kids. That messes with your head a little bit. I still think of myself as being like 22 or 23 years old, and now I’ve got grown men going, ‘I saw you when I was 15. And now I’m a professional comedian!’ Not even people going, ‘I want to be a comedian’ – like actual, established performers.
So you’re an elder statesman of comedy now?
Ross: I wouldn’t go that far! Also, the people that get described as elder statesman …some of them are a little bit too confident in their opinions, you know? They start going: ‘Well, the thing about comedy…’ No! Shut up!
About 15 years ago, you claimed that the planning for your show was ‘about four words on a piece of scrap paper’. Over the years, has that changed at all?
Ross: That was actually taken slightly out of context. What I would do is go on and improvise, and then afterwards, I would write down things I could do again. I didn’t sit down to plan, think of four things and write them down. It’s the same today, really. Except I just don’t write them down – I feel like I should be able to remember four things!
You’re known for your lengthy shows. As you get older, do you ever wish you’d gotten yourself known for sets that are less demanding?
Ross: Not really. During Covid I was doing an hour and half straight through, and I really liked it. The thing that gets me is comics who sit down. Whenever I see a comic with a chair on stage, I just think ‘If you need that chair, do a shorter show! Get up and put some effort in!’
Given that your show has the words ‘Jibber Jabber’ in the title, presumably it doesn’t mark a radical departure from your usual freewheeling stream-of-consciousness approach?
Ross: No, it doesn’t. For a second there, I thought you were going to ask if it’s a tribute to Mr B.A. Baracus, given it’s one of his famous sayings.
Ross: It can be! That would be great, wouldn’t it? Imagine if it was just a very in depth, one-man show about the life of Mr T. That would be brilliant: a real black box type theatre show, just with a single spotlight. I start off as the young Mr T – like when he was ‘Master T’ – and he’s just got one single, small gold chain. And then as the show progresses you put on more and more gold until he’s at the height of his fame and he’s covered in chains. That’s the show (laughs).
Given that your love of crowd interaction and flights of fancy can make each show quite different, do you get fans who try to see every show to get the full experience?
Ross: Yeah, I do! I did the shows in Sydney recently and there was this couple that came three nights running and sat in the same seats. I did a different show every night, I’ve done six hours, and I haven’t repeated any of the ideas and then afterwards, they went: ‘Oh, you never did that bit again that we really liked…’ You can’t win!
How close are you in real-life to your persona on-stage? Do you spend just as much time branching off into whimsical tangents? Or do you get it all out on stage?
Ross: The difference between me onstage and me offstage is that when I’m on stage I show my working out. As I’m talking, my brain is constantly interrupting itself, so I’ll be saying something and then that’ll spark another thing, and then something else will come in – and I explain all that as it happens. Those thoughts still happen when I’m offstage, but I don’t say them all out loud, so if you meet me in the street, I can seem kind of distracted. I’ll often get halfway through a sentence and just stop – it drives my wife up the wall.
Is that why you’re such a fan of live performances?
Ross: Yeah, I really like being able to let the audience into the way my mind works. That’s also one of the things that was great about having kids. The way they think is the way my head is most of the time. It was perfect. Well, I mean, terrible for actually looking after them… but you know, they’re having a fun time!
It’s a tradition that fans leave items on stage during the interval for you to use in the second half of your set. Have you ever had anything really strange left for you?
Ross: Oh, Lord, yeah – heaps of stuff. Somebody left a pin from a ten-pin bowling alley and then a few nights later, somebody left another one. So I tweeted about it, and over the course of the tour, I got all ten and we set up a bowling alley in the dressing room. Somebody did an oil painting of me as a centaur – full horse body, long flowing hair, rippling muscles like Fabio. Then above my head, there’s a Mr Kipling French Fancy with a rainbow coming out of it, and wings like a snitch from Harry Potter. That blew my mind.
On your YouTube channel, you’re doing a spoof nature documentary series, The Unnatural History Show with Ross Noble – which is like Winterwatch, if it had vengeful alien co-hosts and wildlife that can devour a person whole. Does this tell us that you’re a fan of nature shows – or that you wish they featured more risk of people dying?
Ross: A bit of both, really. I love Winter/Springwatch and Countryfile, but there’s a very British, very cosy way that people like Michaela Strachan and John Craven present – it’s all people in jumpers and Berghaus jackets sitting around being very “Well, isn’t this marvellous seeing these mating chaffinches!” I just thought: ‘This would be a lot better if some of these animals could kill you.”
The tour is billed as a chance to see you ‘in your natural habitat’. You’ve done quite a bit of TV/radio work – are there any parts of TV/radio that you prefer to being on stage?
Ross: Stand-up is just so much fun because you’re the writer, the director and the performer – everything’s under your control, and it’s instant. So being a regular on some TV show has never really appealed because I just go: ‘Well, that’s a compromised version of on stage.’
In recent years you’ve branched out into musical theatre, winning awards for performances in shows like Mel Brooks’ Young Frankenstein. Are there any things you’ve learned from musical theatre that you apply to your stand-up?
Ross: Previously I thought that the best thing about stand-up was that you didn’t have to deal with other people messing up what you want to do. But then you do something like Young Frankenstein, with the greatest comedy legend of all time, and the best Broadway director that’s working and you go: ‘Oh, no, it’s not that I don’t like working with other people. I just want to work with the absolute best people.’
Are there any personal heroes you’d still like to work with?
Ross: Oh yeah, tonnes. I didn’t get to meet Robin Williams before he died. I was supposed to do a TV thing with him and then my visa to get into America was delayed. So I was on a different episode and I never got to work with him.
Your reason for going into stand-up was your dyslexia making you think you should avoid a more academic career. But in 2020, you came second in The Celebrity Apprentice Australia. Did it ever make you wonder if you could’ve been a top businessman after all?
Ross: In the final, Lord Sugar actually said in the boardroom that he’d love to give me a job. But that it would be really entertaining for a fortnight and then he’d be out of business. I thought: ‘Fair enough.’
You made it to the final though…
Ross: I just couldn’t get fired. There was one week where they gave us this big pile of sand and I had the idea to sell it by pretending it was cursed sand from the tomb of Tutankhamun, that you could sprinkle onto your enemies.
Afterwards, parents kept coming up to me in the street asking where they could buy it, so I made up these cursed sand envelopes and started selling them after gigs. I ended up making more money for the Red Cross than the TV show was giving away as prize money!
You spent the early part of this year touring Jibber Jabber Jamboree in Australia. Do you notice a difference between audiences there and in the UK?
Ross: The UK audiences look a lot paler – you can almost sense the lack of vitamin D in the room! But also, they’re really committed – just getting to shows nowadays is so difficult with everything being so expensive and the transport being so difficult. Audiences are like: ‘We are seeing a show, it’s happening!’ It’s not just seeing a show, it’s having a night out.