Review: Ross Noble’s 2009 Things Tour

Posted on 22 June 2009

I bought myself a ticket to Ross Noble’s 2009 Things Tour as a personal “birth-month” present. I had seen him do his stuff on Spicks and Specks on more than one occasion and enjoyed his humour.

The show was at the Adelaide Entertainment Centre where Pink and ACDC had recently played. Those performers are well known from the air time they receive on radio, the TV shows that feature their music videos, and all the gossip published about them. I asked numerous people how they came to know Ross Noble and everybody replied (and I do mean everybody) by watching his video at a friend’s house. The Entertainment Centre has an audience capacity of up to 12,000 people and Ross Noble, a comedian, seemed to have filled that space based on word of mouth. I was flabbergasted.

Ross Noble’s humour is quirky, silly, and anarchic. He invites heckling because he will use it for humour in his act, but not in a way that is retaliatory. It’s just grist for the creative mill. He had a couple of comic pieces that were clearly developed prior to this show, but most of his three hours was improvisation and it was all genuinely funny. By the last hour I was going, “How is he doing this? How can I do this?”

First and foremost Ross comes out already prepared to enjoy his audience. He validates the things they say, responding to them rather than avoiding them. He inspires such goodwill that during the interval people put all sorts of gifts onto the stage for him, which he also used for comic effect, then found a way to graciously pass them on. One fellow gave him a soft toy monkey which after a few jokes he gifted to a little girl he had spoken with in the audience earlier.

Ross has one to two over-arching stories with which he begins the show and then doles out in pieces until the final few minutes, when he wraps the story up for a big laugh. He teased us with “fun with plums” for hours. The audience was driven to distraction. You always want to go off strong and this is one way to make it happen when you are relying mostly on off-the-cuff material.

Any jokes Ross made that had strong images and got a big laugh, he would find ways to weave back into subsequent jokes. Like a jazz artist he would embellish and create variations on these themes turning them into complex running gags. Ross is also the master of the MacGuffin. A MacGuffin is an object of desire whose attainment is repeatedly frustrated. Like some fellow eyeing the last bottle of beer at a barbecue: the table is straight ahead, but one thing after another, such as talky guests or an over-friendly dog, blocks his quest to relieve his thirst. It matters not how genuinely important or unimportant the object is, the strength of the character’s desire and the lengths to which he will go builds up audience tension. Ross used MacGuffins on several occasions, but received his biggest laugh with the story about setting a pig on Pink while she’s on a walking machine.

I’ve been taking classes in TheatreSports improvisation. They teach you to walk onto stage as if your body already knows what needs to be done and just let whatever bubbles up to happen. Ross Noble seems to adhere to that school of thought.

He was performing “theatre in the round”, which means the audience surrounded him on all sides. Between the style of staging and the size of the venue, Ross mentioned that he asked for the overhead screens to be used. Therefore, if he was facing north, people to the south could still see his face as it was projected onto the screen. Even so, if you’ve paid for a ticket, you want to directly watch performers doing their thing. Ross brought in much slapstick and mime to his standup performance, ensuring that every direction was played to. He moved with deliberate confidence and broad gestures that projected well to the back seats.

Beginning standups can have a bad habit of shuffling from foot to foot in short nervous movements that undermine their performance. To these youngsters of comedy I would suggest first learning how to plant your feet and perform without extraneous gestures, then learning how to move as if you mean it.

Ross also has eighteen years of knowing how to “be himself” in an effective manner, backed up by a catalogue of stored life experiences which he has learned others find funny. I came away from his show thinking the one thing I should probably do in order to attain his level of funny is to more regularly take note in my journal the absurdities of every day life.

Ross Noble’s performance was an absolute tour de force. I highly recommend going to his show and participating.

Peace and kindness,

Katherine


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