Ross Noble

A wildly entertaining, stream-of-consciousness trek through the mind of a maverick

An announcement before Ross Noble takes the stage for the first of two shows at Belfast’s Waterfront (part of the 10th Cathedral Quarter Arts Festival) promises an evening of ‘absolute bollocks’, and that’s exactly what he delivers – in a good way.

The Geordie funnyman – voted number ten on Channel 4’s list of the 100 greatest stand-ups – mixes whimsy with surrealism with venom with audience participation in a freewheeling manner that Belfast has rarely seen before. It begins with abuse for those arriving late – never the best idea at a comedy gig.

Noble sets the rest of us up to stroke the latecomers’ faces, which, amazingly, we do. ‘Have you lot not got fucking watches?’ he remarks as more tardy fans enter the hall.

The Noble crowd is a colourful bunch. There are a lot of black-rimmed glasses, wacky t-shirts and wild hairdos about the venue tonight. Noble’s own mane just seems to get longer – there’s at least three feet of it now – and he’s wearing a black workshirt, black jeans and a big pair of banana-yellow trainers.

The ‘stroke’ routine leads to gags about stroke victims, the Special Olympics, Special Forces, ‘Dickheads on Ice’ and ‘Wankers on Stilts’. It’s total stream-of-consciousness stuff, and it takes Noble at least an hour to get back to his opening story about an incident that occurred backstage before the gig. The punchline – when it finally arrives – is fairly lame, but the roundabout journey to get there is mind-meltingly funny.

There are bits about soluble buses, ball-slapping dances and a dream Noble had about being chased by a man with pumpkin legs. He talks about his newborn daughter, Elf, and gibbers about Jade Goody, The Goodies, the Pope and the police. A skit about cops driving around in clown cars, wearing invisibility suits and having their pepper spray replaced by silly string receives nervous laughter. ‘Has something happened with the police here recently?’ he enquires.

Moving on, and audience members are mocked for rooting through bins, losing their jobs, having swine flu, getting their testicle trapped in the Waterfront seats, living in Belfast, not living in Belfast… There’s an intrinsic futility in reviewing any Ross Noble show, as you imagine no two performances are ever the same. During the interval, some fans leave gifts on the stage – a crumpled Post-it note, an umbrella, an IKEA store card – which sends him off on more flights of fancy.

In an apparently more scripted segment, the comedian talks about losing his home and all his possessions in the recent Australian bush fires. Right now, we learn, he owns a suitcase, four t-shirts, a few pairs of socks – and the giant inflatable monster positioned onstage behind him.

As turtle-bodied, crab-clawed, dinosaur-legged, angel-winged, octopus-tentacled, four-headed Ross-beasts go, it’s impressive. The 40-foot creature looks like something designed by Iron Maiden album artist Derek Riggs – which, funnily enough, it was.

His detractors may say it’s all just nonsense, but Ross Noble is quick-witted, clever and, above all else, wildly entertaining.

Andrew Johnston