Towards the end of the last millennium, Simon Morgan sold the famed Harold Park Hotel after briefly re-branding it âThe Comedy Hotelâ. He had owned it with â I believe, and Iâm doing this from memory â his brother (who was at one time married to Gretel Killeen, and went to America to become a producer). The Harold Park Hotel, until quite recently, remained a construction site thereafter, while Simon went on to open âThe Comedy Cellarâ in the bottom of the then-newly completed Broadway Shopping Centre. The Comedy Cellar became the central locus of two Sydney Comedy Festivals that Simon initiated, the first in 1998 and the other the following year. A third one failed to take place in 2000 when (and despite), letâs face it, Sydney being primed for such an event, what with the Olympicsâ¦ In time, Sydneyâs comedy industry would be shaken and stirred by not one, but two comedy festivals: Big Laugh and Cracker. Thatâs a whole other story that Iâll write when commissioned.
Back to the 1999 Sydney Comedy Festival: I remember Simon Morgan proudly telling me of the talents heâd secured, one of whom was Ross Noble. âYouâll enjoy Ross. Make sure you shout something during the performance â see what he does with it.â I had no idea what to make of Ross Noble initially, in performance or in interview. Admittedly, his opening night audience were a bit reticent. It was down to one punter right up the back, shouting stuff out. I recognised him. So did Ross, eventually: âHang on, your the feller who hired meâ¦" Fact is, I wasnât disappointed by Ross as an interview subject, a performer or, with time, a broadcaster. And neither have been the ever-growing number of people who make up his fan base.
This is the first of a series of interviews Iâve had the pleasure of conducting with Ross Noble. I intend to run them all here, in the lead-up to what I hope is another interview before his next Australian tour (destined to start any minute now) â hence the title of this section. The interview itself has a name that Iâm sure I attached to at least one other subsequent article; no doubt there are a multitude of similar-titled articles occupying cyber space and the arts pages of local and city publications the world over. Donât get to stressed about it. Ross and his comedy are whatâs important.
This interview first appeared in Revolver in 1999 â so ignore the show details at the bottom, they are now meaningless.
The Noble Art of Comedy
âWhich cartoon characters would you have sex with if you had to?â comedian Ross Noble demands. Apparently it is the sort of topic he discusses with people â fellow comedians, loved ones, colleagues and even interviewers â and claims that it should have been a âFamily Feudâ question: âWe surveyed a hundred people and came up with their top seven answersâ¦ ba-BOW!â I have to be honest and admit that when rub comes to tuck, my main cartoon squeeze would be Daphne from Scooby Doo. âSheâs a popular favourite,â Ross concurs. âThe real question is, âBetty or Wilma?ââ
Ross Noble came to comedy some seven years ago, from the world of street entertainment. Initially, he and a partner used to present an Evel Knievel tribute show: âWe used to do his famous bus jump on unicycles. We had this big plywood ramp and weâd line up these toy double-decker buses and then ride along and jump over them.â The pair would also juggle fire over unwitting members of the audience invited to lie down on the floor. Despite the good fun had by all, the partnership eventually dissolved due to the âcouple of timesâ that Noble accidentally set his partnerâs hair on fire. âHe was just getting a bit tired of it,â Ross recalls. âHe decided that he wanted to become an architect. Itâs understandable, after youâve had your head burnt several times.â
Going solo did not pose a problem, but getting rained on frequently did, so Noble decided to turn to stand-up. Just as his street theatre had a humorous bent, Ross acknowledges that nowadays his comedy retains elements of street theatre. âIt was all very much a matter of having set things â tricks â that you had to do and kind of waffling around them. My act is exactly the same now but instead doing a trick, I deliver a punchline. The punchlines are the framework and the rest just slots in between.â
âThe restâ that Noble slots in, if reviews are anything to go by, consists of unpredictable material dealing with all manner of topics; Ross Noble has a reputation for being an improviser. Noble takes issue with the phrase âreputation for being an improviserâ, as opposed to merely âbeing an improviserâ, but proves my point in doing so by going off on a totally improvised tangent in a sly, know-it-all voice:
âHeard about Nobleâ¦ possibly a bit of improv; be careful, watch him. Weâll be off script soon as you know it. Donât trust him â Devilâs in his eye.â
He claims that when he walks into the Peter Cook Bar after a Melbourne International Comedy Festival gig, he can âhear them whispering: âThere he goes. There he goes with his lack of preparationâ¦ââ
When challenged, Ross Noble says that what makes him laugh is âseeing things fired from cannonsâ. He claims to have discarded the telly and invested in a small cannon. This is merely the preamble, however. The funniest thing he has seen in a while, Noble claims, is a photograph of a hamster that looks exactly like Andy Warhol â âthe hair, the little face, everything. I started to believe that this guinea pig was actually the great artist himself, reincarnated in a rodent form.â And now, Devil in his eye, the notorious improviser is off-script: ââ¦But an Andy Warhol guinea pig fired from a cannon, that would be really funny. With a large-headed child â you know when you see toddlers that have got really big heads? Iâd like to see one of them walking across the road and getting hit by an Andy Warhol guinea pig fired out of a cannon. That would be the ultimate laughter-frenzy for me.â
What amuses Noble most, it seems, are uninhibited conversations where the mind is free to â well, associate, I guess, for âfree-associationâ seems to be the basis for this comicâs wild improvisations.
In answer to Ross Nobleâs earlier question of âWilma or Betty,â I am forced to reply âWilmaâ. Given my Daphne-from-Scooby Doo fixation, itâs clearly a redhead fetish, Iâm sure.
âYou see, I would go for Betty every time,â Ross says. When I ask why, he replies, flabbergasted, âOh! Have a look!â And heâs off again: âLook at Wilmaâs hair! Whatâs that thing on the top? Bettyâs cuteâ¦ But whatâs going on with Barneyâs eyes? Has he got cataracts? Theyâre just circles. Fred has proper eyesâ¦â
âThatâs the sort of thing I talk about,â Noble concludes. âItâs fairly heavily cartoon-based.â He goes on to relate âone of the most entertaining conversationsâ he claims he has ever had, which took place recently with American comic Rich Hall. âIt was about people who have shit themselves when they should have been working.â He outlines the examples that both he and Hall offered of the same, after which I admit that I have âno further questions, your Honourâ.
âWhatâs wrong,â Ross demands, âare you scared?â
Yeah, Iâm shittinâ myself.
See Ross Noble fire strangely shaped ideas from his free-associating cannon at big-headed members of the Comedy Cellar audience this week.