British comedian Russell Howard is wrapping up a brief tour of North America, hitting the United States and wrapping things up with an appearance at Montreal’s Just For Laughs Festival. We caught up with the extremely busy comedian to catch up and get his thoughts on what its like traveling the states, comedy influences, his upcoming scripted comedy, who could be the next female action star, and how he became big on social media by deploying a really simple strategy.
Hello Russell, how is your U.S. Tour going?
Yeah, it got like 12 gigs – it should be fun. Pretty small, little venues. Should be a hoot – I’m just doing it for a laugh, to be honest. I should sort of say, “Blah blah blah” and sell myself but not really the English way. If you fancy coming along, it’ll be a laugh, if not… “eh, who cares.”
So it’s just for fun? You just want to have a good time?
Yeah, yeah. It’s just a brilliant way of seeing the country – it’s amazing. I did it the last time and kind of fell in love with America. It’s a really kind of cool way of seeing different cities and then kind of experience them, and then work material up about each place in a room full of people. It’s just a really cool way of spending six weeks. That’s why I’m doing it again, really.
Is there any specific city that you fell in love with more than the others?
No – just the snapshot of America is incredible kind of just seeing how different each parts are is, it’s a real allure. Growing up in England you’re still kind of pinching yourself when doing a gig in this amazing comedy club in Chicago that’s got pictures of Seinfeld and Richard Pryor on the wall and there’s a little sign that says, “No guns allowed” and you think “Nah, you wouldn’t have that in England, f*ck!” So, it’s just brilliant; every place felt different and unique, it’s cool.
Touching on that, British comedy has a big effect on America – for you, vice versa. What American comedy did something for you as a fan growing up?
I would say the first big U.S. comic I got into was probably Bill Hicks and then, sort of, Richard Pryor, and then usual Rolodex of brilliance – people like Louis C.K. and Mitch Hedberg. Those are the ones that really stand out to me, especially Mitch Hedberg, it’s a shame, such a brilliant comedic brain – he’s one of the greatest comics ever. I’m kind of a comedy nerd really; I think you get into stand-up when you’re little, people like Billy Connolly in England, the tapes get passed around (this is before YouTube), you listen to them in your bedroom late at night and going into school and going, “Woody Allen’s got this brilliant thing about a Moose!” and your mate’s like, “What the f*ck?” So yeah, I’m a comedy nerd.
I’m curious too, do you feel the comedy scene is different in England as opposed to here? Or is it pretty much the same?
No. It’s massively, massively different, really. We have a lot more – well actually, I can’t speak because I don’t know your scene that well. But, for example the Edinburgh [Fringe} Festival is our big comedy festival and anybody can do that and it has sort of more of an amateur, knock-about feel to it. Whereas, the big North American comedy festival is the Montreal [Just For Laughs] is a lot more kind of corporate and people have to be invited. So I guess North America feels a lot more like a business and its run like a business. I think we’re still winging it.
I always ask this of comedians… what the worst food in the green room that you’ve ever had?
Worst food in the green room?! See this is it; we don’t even have food. We take over a pub for one night – like club gigs, that’s what I mean, club gigs. You wouldn’t have a meal or anything like that, you’d just walk up, take over the end of the pub, do it, and leave. Further down the line, maybe I’ve had… I’ll tell you what, I had some sandwiches that my friend Steve shaved his beard on, bastard. I didn’t realize he’d done and I was like, “These sandwiches are disgusting!” and he’s like, “Oh yeah, sorry mate.” He literally shaved his face in front of all the sandwiches. So that’s the worst I’ve ever eaten.
That’s a good one right there
Congratulations on the new scripted comedy that’s coming out in December, what’s your mindset with that show right now?
Uh, it’s all done really – I wrote it with my mate, filmed it, and it was fun. It’s something I’ve never done before, so I was really excited about it because I’ve never really written any kind of narrative stuff, I’ve only ever done stand-up or kind of topical comedy so it felt like a really big challenge. It was great, it was really cool, really exciting actually – it was really good fun writing jokes for other people to perform. I didn’t realize that I would love that as much, but I really enjoyed it, got a real kick out of it.
Is it hard to juggle everything you mentioned at once?
No, I just do it; I just do it one at a time. I’m hopeless. I have to really focus – if I’m just doing Good News, I’m totally into that. If I’m doing stand-up, totally into that. When doing the film, I was straight into that. I find it really difficult when there are different places to put thoughts; I have to put them in one place at a time.
I always hear comedians talk about getting that “itch” if they don’t do stand-up for a while. Do you get that? If so, how long does it take before you get antsy?
I think it’s interesting, because it’s really good fun to just chop and change. And then after about six months of doing one thing, you’re really like, “Ahh man, I’ve got to properly get back into it,” But, this time, it was a lot quicker; I wanted to start gigging again, just work up to these shows – so that’s what I’m doing in the U.K.
Touching on Good News. It’s now ten seasons in. Why do you think fans keep coming back? What is the secret to keeping a show like that on the air?
I think because it’s a topical comedy show, there will always be news that everyone’s talking about. Something heartbreaking or hilarious, as a comedian you’ve got this limitless bunch of new material that you can just work with. I think that’s what it is really – the show is almost the same every week but its completely different because it’s jokes about things that everyone’s talking about. That’s it’s strength… in that week, it’s excellent. But also, people watch it on repeat, which I find really bizarre. It’s got stuff from like 2009 where I’m talking about Gordon Brown and people still watch it! Christ, he hasn’t been leader of the Labour Party in like five years!
I’m shocked that a lot of Americans don’t know all the great British comedy on the BBC and other channels, your show, Peep Show, things like that – for an American audience, what would you recommend Americans check out?
That’s the interesting thing, isn’t it? We talk about sort of gaps in culture, like the majority of British people have never seen Seinfeld; it kind of just got f*cked in scheduling. It got put on really late at night on BBC2 and never really broke through. I’ve seen it, obviously, but I’m a comedy fan. It’s really interesting how certain things don’t get through. But what’s good? There’s a show called Him and Her, that’s very good, my sister’s in it, you should watch that. Gavin and Stacey, I don’t think that’s made it over to the U.S. I think that’s a really excellent show. Then, Peep Show we’ve done, The Office… The Inbetweeners, did that break over there?
A little, not even close to what The Office did but just a touch.
Yeah, I think there was an American remake of it [The Inbetweeners]. The first two seasons of it are so British I don’t think it would necessarily translate. However, it was basically like watching your childhood – it’s phenomenal, absolutely incredible. Those are the three really, there are probably loads I can’t think of. But, with stuff like Netflix, it’s probably changed as you can find these shows and gradually work your way through. I only recently got into Modern Family and how incredible is that? It’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant! What I love about it is you’ve got this great, big, huge mainstream comedy show that’s fucking funny and really deft, and doesn’t pull punches, it’s brilliant! It’s absolutely great! And it isn’t just “here’s a big comedy show for all the families!” it’s really funny.
Let’s talk about the Stand Up Central show on Comedy Central. That must be really great to be a part of Comedy Central.
Yeah, basically they asked me to do it. In England it would normally be a kind of massive show, which is really good fun doing the O2 Arena and stuff like that. But when you film it, it never really feels like it’s for people at home, so I said, “if we’re going to do it, let’s do it at a dingy, little crap hole in Camden.” And they were like, “Yeah, alright,” so that’s what we did; we basically performed in a lovely little, small comedy club in Camden and I hosted. We had a load of people on that, so it was really good fun. It was like doing a night in London; I had a bunch of my mates on and yeah, it was a hoot.
Going back to what we were discussing earlier – the stand up, scripting stuff, the hosting – is there one thing you like to do more than the other, or are you cool with doing all three?
It’s cool – it’s wherever anything fits, really. I really would love to write another scripted thing because that means I could probably get better at it. But at the minute I’m bumming around in Toronto, writing little notes in my book for the show I’m doing tomorrow and there’s nowhere else I rather be. There’s nothing like traveling to make you realize how incredible it is being a comic. So at the moment I’m in stand-up mode and really happy to be. A week ago, it was like “ah, yeah I really want to write another film,” but at the minute, I can’t wait to do this little gig in Toronto tomorrow, it’s going to be nice.
So you’re doing all this great stuff – is there anything in the entertainment world that you want to tackle next?
No, I’m fine. My sister wants to do an action film; she wants to be a proper sh*t-kicking female actress. Her name is Kerry Howard and she wants to be Jean-Claude Van Damme. That hasn’t happen yet, has it? That’s a good angle there, for an old fashioned sh*t-kicking woman. Kind of odd isn’t it? There isn’t a female Stallone! It could be my sister!
You should write that down immediately and don’t forget about it!
Alright, final question: You clearly have a really strong social media presence, your YouTube channel is phenomenal – A. how can your fans reach you on all these channels? And B. how do you maintain that great presence> That has to be a job in itself.
Yeah, to be honest, the bizarre thing is I’m a bit of a luddite. It was just something that sort of happened really. Whenever I do stuff, we just whack it on YouTube, on Facebook and that’s kind of it. It’s just a case of doing something and going, “Oh, we’ll put it there,” but that’s kind of how it works, really. There’s no master plan.
For more information about Russell Howard, visit his website for all tour dates and premiere dates of his new show.