ROSS Noble once said: “As usual, I have lots of stuff backing up in my mind and it’s time to let it out”.
Can you image how crammed the Geordie surrealist’s brain must be as he prepares to perform his Humournoid show at the Grand Opera House, York, on Saturday, given that tickets first went on sale as long ago as June 6 2019.
At that time, the gig was scheduled for April 30 2020, but then Coronavirus brought everything to a halt. “It’s been hilarious!” says Ross, managing to see the funny side of Covid’s curse on live entertainment.
“I’d been waiting two years, with dates being on, then off, then back on, then off, having to keep reorganising the tour, before I finally could start it at the end of last year.”
Ross, now 45, called an earlier tour show Brain Dump, in acknowledgement of every improvised performance being a clear-out of his in-tray of thoughts. “My shows are always where my head is on that day,” says the Newcastle-born absurdist comic and actor.
Lockdown had led others to occupy their head space in such a way too, he notes, and that has since had an impact on Humournoid. “We started doing Humournoid in Australia [where Noble lives in Melbourne], just before the country got shut down. It’s a bit unusual that people, the entire world over, whether they liked it or not, were then forced to re-evaluate themselves and be in their head, in isolation at home, which I think has been a good thing.
“I know it’s been hard and I know we’re still in the pandemic and people are hurting, but it’s extraordinary that even though 9/11 changed the course of how society thinks, Covid has forced the whole world to take stock and think about things.”
Since resuming performances, Ross has seen at close hand how “some people are desperate to get out to see a show but others are still nervous about going out”.
Unlike the freewheeling, wild path his shows take, he is conducting himself on the road with caution. “I wear a mask all the time, and even though people think Omicron is less severe, I’ve not yet had Covid, and if I did get it, I’d have to shut down for five days, which would affect the tour,” he says.
“My strategy is to play the gig, go to the hotel, play the next gig, go to the hotel. The only interaction with the outside world is at a petrol station, or when I’m on stage, or signing in at the hotel. Otherwise, I’m always on my own. The one thing I can do is to try to make sure that each gig happens.”
How did Ross spend his lockdowns? “Weirdly, every comic has written either a children’s book or a self-help book, and they’re the last people I’d want to get self-help advice from or want to read their stories talking about bringing up their kids,” he says.
“What I’ve done is six weeks of hotel quarantine, when moving around in Australia, if I wanted to cross into another state to do TV. Melbourne, my home, is the most locked-down city in the world, with an eight o’clock curfew, and you were only allowed to go three miles from your home. Only one person per household per day was allowed to go out to the supermarket.”
When he travelled to Sydney, it was “proper quarantine”, he recalls. “Locking you in your hotel room, with the police and the army on the door, and you could only open the door for a bag of food and a Covid test, when they would send a nurse around twice a week, and you had to stand there with your back against the wall as they shoved the test equipment up your nose,” says Ross.
“But in the first lockdown, I seriously loved it. Normally if I’m in a hotel room, I’d be staring at the wall, thinking ‘I should be doing more’, but just being allowed to sit there and stare into the distance, I loved it.
“The fact is I already do meditation, or as my wife calls it, ‘not listening’. People are into all this mindfulness stuff, whereas if you’re told you’re not allowed to do anything or go anywhere, I naturally drift off, as opposed to doing an hour’s formal meditation.”
It turns out Ross did put lockdown to good use. “I always have lots of ideas in my head, but the great thing about the pandemic was that I found myself thinking, ‘oh, I’m going to finish these ideas off,” he says.
“I started writing screenplays and they’re now at various stages of development. Well, the thing is I can’t really say. It’s not top secret but you have to be really careful, but in two years’ time, people could be saying, oh, he’s been busy’, or it could die in the water and become something you find in the drawer long after it never happened.”
Let’s see what happens to these Noble deeds, but in the meantime, he will be in Humournoid form in York this weekend.
Having made his return to the Grand Opera House on his El Hablador in October 2018 after a run of shows at York Barbican, he is delighted to be going back there once more. “It’s one of the best rooms for comedy,” says Ross. “I put it in my top five favourite places to play. I love it there.”
Ross Noble: Humournoid, Grand Opera House, York, Saturday (29/1/2022), 8pm. Box office: 0844 871 7615 or at atgtickets.com/York.
Copyright of The Press, York