British comedian Russell Howard’s show Wonderbox sold out in Auckland in 2014. Now, he’s back in the city with his Round the World tour, accompanied by some strong messages.
I have a very soft spot for a place called Tanuki’s Cave. I had sushi there for the first time ever with Ross Noble when I was 22 years old. It was a wonderful experience because I was in awe of this man and I got to have sushi for the first time and it blew my mind. Whenever I go back to New Zealand I have to go back to Tanuki’s Cave, it sort of stirs up all those memories.
So wait… that was the first time you ever had sushi?
Cuisine in England has really come on from when I was a kid. Your mum would check your meal and go “there we go, I’ve checked it. There’s literally zero nutritional value in there”. We used to go to restaurants called things like Beef Eaters. It was a mind-blowing experience when we first had la-sag-ne-ya (lasagne), and it was only years later we found out it was pronounced luh-zahn-yuh, but at the time to have lasagne was very, very exciting to us. So the idea of raw fish, coming from the west country in England, it was madness, I can’t be putting that craziness in my mouth.
You’ve been touring with your current show for a while now, but there’s also a lot going on in the world at the moment. Do you update the political content as you go along?
That’s the thing about doing stand-up, the political landscape changes on a daily basis. When I find myself in different places and travelling across America, you talk about politics a lot more. It’s a really exciting time to be a comic, because there’s so much absurdity and paucity of leadership in the world, it’s a really sort of vital time… you can just laugh at the madness in the world.
How do you make light of such hard to talk about topics?
I don’t make light of them. There’s a bit in my show that I’ve just done about how one in four 16 to 25-year-old women in the UK self-harm and I found out and it just blew my mind, it was so sad. And when you see Theresa May cuddling hands with Donald Trump… with this “fix the economy” sort of thinking… well stop treating this country as a business, treat it as a collection of people. And so I spoke about that, from the heart, and I managed to make it a really funny bit of the show, whereas on paper it’s not something you’d see as funny. Or the fact that one million people in the UK still use food banks or one in eight kids go to school hungry because they’re not wealthy enough or their parents don’t give them breakfast. You see these stories, like in Newport in Wales recently where the local council was going to fine homeless people £1000 for sleeping rough, which has got to be one of the most ridiculous stories you’ve ever seen in the world. If they had a grand, they probably wouldn’t be sleeping rough, would they? So I think that’s it, the thing I try to do is mesh it all together so that it’s a really funny show and takes in the fury that people are feeling, and connect with the rage that we’re all feeling toward these avalanche of idiocies both politically and on TV. These reality TV shows are just sleeping pills for the nation. So the whole show is about trying to recalibrate society.
Do you feel like that’s your responsibility as a famous comedian?
No, it’s just what I like, so I sort of selfishly try and impose it on people. I think if you view the world through the media, you lose your faith in us – the people. You should never lose faith in the fact that we’re here for a brief bit of time and can make each other so happy, so it’s a call to that really, because I’m a fucking egomaniac and megalomaniac, but I want it to be a comedy version of the speech that Charlie Chaplin did at the end of The Great Dictator. If anyone’s seen that, it’s so relevant at the minute.
What’s the strangest request you’ve ever had from a fan?
A lady asked me to sign her boobs, so I did, and it turns out boobs are really tricky to write on; they kind of squish all over the place.
Russell Howard will perform at Auckland Town Hall, Sun 2 Jul