Russell Howard: Round the World - Royal Albert Hall
At a time of perceived unprecedented uncertainty, for good for or ill, particularly in the corridors of political power in both London and Washington, it is almost inevitable that anyone who has an open platform to a receptive audience would seek to address the subjects of President Trump’s administration and Brexit. In doing so whilst restraining himself from an angry rant that would only make him sound like a president he clearly dislikes, Russell Howard has come of age. Perhaps this Round The World tour, unimaginatively if fairly accurately titled, isn’t as hilarious as his previous Wonderbox tour. But this is a richer, deeper and more worthwhile experience. Russell is older and wiser, though the toilet humour remains, as does much talk about dicks and willies.
I caught Russell’s gig on the sixth of ten ‘in-the-round’ shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall. No performer has ever performed ten days in a row before now in that most Victorian of venues. After a pleasant brief support act from Steve Hall, who has worked with Howard on the Russell Howard’s Good News BBC television series, the Albert Hall crowd settled down to a somewhat unfocused set in which Howard’s family were heavily featured. There must be at least some degree of embellishment going on: surely in this day and age there would be footage of some of the more bizarre statements and happenings from Team Howard, especially if one of them (Howard himself) is a known public figure.
But then this isn’t Good News, so why give paying audiences video clip after video clip, thus leaving them with the impression that they may as well have stayed at home and turned on the telly? Howard, for all his bouncing around and gradually ever-increasing absurdity on stage, likes to portray himself as one of the less zany characters in his clan, the others – his sister Kerry, a television and film actress (and married to theatre actor Gabriel Vick), his autistic brother, his parents and grandparents – apparently provide much fodder for his stand-up tours of this nature.
There was, I felt, a slight danger that Howard was sermonising in his – admittedly convincing and entirely feasible – line of argument that laughter is the best way to respond to everything that’s going on in the world. Mind you, I recall seeing the late singer/songwriter Leonard Cohen in the same Royal Albert Hall in 2008, who told his audience that with the world being what it is (an international economic crisis was tightening its grip at that time) it is an extraordinary thing that people can come together and enjoy an evening’s entertainment. Almost nine years later, and in a very different environment of intense lunacy than Cohen’s ‘First We Take Manhattan’ song, such words ring true all the more.
Some of the observational comedy felt a tad dry. One was about letting Darwinism run its course by getting rid of ‘Mind The Gap’ announcements on the London Underground, and banning irritating talking lorries (“This vehicle is turning left”). But surely, in the former case, it would appear Howard has never had to go through the frustration of disrupted Tube services because someone has fallen through ‘the gap’. In the latter case, such announcements clearly benefit the blind and partially sighted.
Still, Howard’s storytelling ability is top notch; even when he digressed it was easy enough to follow his train of thought. His live-in girlfriend is a medical doctor, and thus he is highly sympathetic to the problems and challenges facing frontline NHS staff. His observations on musical theatre had me in stitches, even if musicals are his poison and my pleasure. A spoonful of sugar, he mused, won’t help the medicine go down if you’re diabetic. And I found himself in agreement with Russell Howard when he spoke of a dream in which the Prime Minister of the day wouldn’t treat the country so much as a business that needs to be run, with diatribes about the state of the economy, but as a group of citizens – human beings – with wants, desires and emotions, and above all, a need to laugh.