Posts Tagged ‘The Independent’

19th November 2012

Here’s an interview I did with Ross Noble for The Independent:


With all the talk about the imminent collapse of the comedy bubble, Ross Noble, currently in the midst of a mammoth nationwide tour seems to be doing fine. But then the thirty six year old is currently celebrating his own comedy jubilee, twenty one years as a stand up.

“When I got into it, there was no money. It was this tiny niche thing. At best you would get a presenting job, when I started Mark Lamarr, who was an amazing life stand up, was presenting “The Word”. You’d think the best you could do was probably get a sitcom or chat show or a presenting gig. I just absolutely loved doing stand up, it was just what I wanted to do

“If I was a teenager now, I think I’d be really excited about what was going on in comedy now. The big difference to when I started is you couldn’t just go on YouTube and watch anything from around the world. There used to be a bookshop in London that sold comedy books and I had to go down and buy comedy books there. There’s a lot more things out there now, which is good in one sense but it’s also daunting. How do you find your own voice when there’s so much stuff out there?

“There’s a danger, that like when pop bands come along and they just sound like everyone else, that the real stuff , that’s a bit different, will get a bit lost and more experimental stuff gets pushed aside for stuff that is more instant and commercially viable.

“TV and life comedy are so far apart now. When “Live at the Apollo” first started, I did the very first series. There was one act and we each got to do 40 minute set, that was unheard of, you hadn’t seen acts doing sets for that long before. Now, there are three acts and the times keep being shortened down.

Noble thinks you can compare how television treats life comedy to what happened to music.

“It used to be that you put out a record, you recorded a single and then you released millions of copies and you ended up on something like “Top of The Pops”. That’s where the band and record companies made their money from so it was in the music industries interest to have shows like that on. Then people stopped buying records, it was full of boy bands, it wasn’t relevant to the way that people consumed their music. People on “Later with Jules Holland” people playing album tracks, that are more eclectic late night things, that was still relevant. Comedy will go like that too. Eventually it will get the point where you’ll get a whole channel; all of it stand up from start to finish, because everything will become so fragmented”

After all that time honing his craft on the live circuit, clocking up TV appearances is not something he seems very interested in.

“I’m in my own little bubble. I go out there, I do my thing, the whole TV thing is kind of irrelevant to me. The people with real longevity, like Billy Connelly, don’t pop up on every TV show; he’s not chasing the telly. That’s the problems with a lot of acts desperate to make a name for themselves in comedy; people are just going to end up sick of them. They’re on everything and telly is just going to chew them up and spit them out the other end. As soon as Michael McIntyre stops getting the high profile TV stuff he’s going to struggle to sell all these massive big arenas, it can’t last forever”

For anybody who equates mass popularity with lasting comedy greatness, Noble offers a sobering reminder from recent showbiz history.

“In the 70s and 80s, the biggest acts in comedy were Cannon and Ball. They were so big that when they played Blackpool people would queue from pier to pier to get a ticket. They even had their own movie. You could not have got a bigger act than them. I saw them a couple of years ago and they were playing to four hundred people on a variety bill”

Instead Noble takes a longer view on things.

Frankie Howard had a massive long career, he kept doing what he did, he fell out of fashion and he was back in fashion four or five times, that’s the trick to do your thing and make telly and all that stuff come to you, if you chase it you become a slave to it”

Even after all these years, Noble is as excited by stand up as ever.

“For me every show is a work in progress. I have an idea, I will go on improvise and if something comes out of that I think, that’s got more in it, then the next night I might move the idea on, and the take it around and see where it goes. It just becomes this flowing thing. This fluid constant, I never get to the end, I want to be in the moment all the time

“I don’t look at a tour and think, oh god, I’ve got to do a massive tour, and I have to travel. I think brilliant; this is what I’ve always wanted to do. I get to tour the UK and Australia, playing tiny towns in the outback and beautiful old Victorian theatres in the middle of nowhere, spend a couple of months just having a laugh, doing my thing. There’s nothing perks up your energy than having two thousand people go “come on then”, when you walk on stage. You hear that buzz off the audience, its lifts you. It’s not like a job”

You can see Ross at Hammersmith Apollo 29th, 30th Nov, 1st December. For other tour dates check his website
His new 3 disc DVD “Nonsensory Overload” is also out now.



12th November 2012

Next year Derry-London Derry will become the first UK Capital of Culture. Inspired by Liverpool’s tenure as the European holder of the title, the Northern Ireland city with celebrate a year of local culture, as well as holding some of the UKs most prestigious cultural events and awards.

It’s easy to be cynical when cities seemingly arbitrarily get awarded these honours. It’s like when a town announces that it’s twinned with some village in South America and you wonder if that means the mayors have to become pen pals. When it’s a place in Northern Ireland it’s even easier to roll one’s eyes, like it’s a patronising clap on the back to reward a place for not blowing each other up anymore.

Growing up in the south, north of the border was a confusing place to me. Peace grants, peace trains, reconciliation patch work quilts, full of well meaning middle class women, talking earnestly about nurturing cross community cultural understanding through dialogue and knitting. It was all part of the weirdness that was Northern Ireland. It was like the girl at school that sometimes didn’t do her homework but the teachers let off for mysterious reasons that were never quite explained.

Every night the news was a roll call of grey middle aged men, face and voice contorted with hatred, or paralyzed with rock hard certainty shrilly promising to never forget or never surrender. Occasionally, there would be a documentary about some old atrocity, footage from the 70s would appear in autumnal colours with young men and women looking like they’d wandered out of my parent’s childhood photo album. Happy young faces beaming from hand knitted jumpers and dodgy haircuts doomed to disappear, shot dead, blown up; frozen in eternal youth by events too heart breakingly sad and unfair to wrap your head around. Facts, numbers and history, beating down any chance of hope or change.

Nowhere is that more evident in the city of Derry/London Derry, where even its schizophrenic name reveals centuries of division. One city but two different names claimed by two warring communities, each with their own myths, legends and version of events. Free Derry, home of nationalism, witness to the battle of the Bogside, the town I loved so well and London Derry, Birthplace of Loyalism, it’s walls the witness to The Siege of Derry, it was old and it was beautiful and it all began there.

When I arrived in London first, I lived with a girl from an Ulster unionist background. I adored her, chic, glamorous; she was everything I imagined city life to be. Weeks after I’d moved in, I casually referred to somebody being from Derry. “It’s called London Derry” she snapped. For an ice cold moment, she stopped being the new friend who worked in fashion and became that boogieman from the news. We were two young women in London, yet history had still found us.

History has a habit of popping back when you least want it. Only last week, when a prison guard was shot dead by a paramilitary group, it was a very old hatred reminding us that it wasn’t all over just yet. The families that wept with relief when the Bloody Sunday findings were released, weren’t mourning anonymous names on walls, they were remembering their brother and sisters. Loss has a cruel way of popping back as fresh as a lost loved ones smell.
It makes sense that a city that has witnessed so much horror and injustice should also produce some of the greatest art from that period; to make sense, offer consolation, to pay witness to the dogged determination to survive.

It’s in the urgency of The Undertones guitar riffs, the compassion of Brian Friel’s plays, the beauty of Seamus Heaney poems. The advantage Art has over facts is that it tells you what it was really like, how it actually felt, what things are really all about. You may disagree with someone political beliefs but when faced with your shared humanity, it’s much harder to hate someone and dismiss their opinions as not worth listening to. Facts can tell us what happened, but art tells us why and how it felt. It gives a community space to tell their truth, away from the reports, the spin and the prejudice.

The shooting of thirteen unarmed civilians by the British army in Derry in 1972 is seen by many as the start of The Troubles. It’s fitting then that two years after an enquiry that finally revealed the truth about that awful day, that this city is given the chance to begin the next chapter in Northern Irish history. It’s also fitting that it’s their local boy who offers, in a poem, the one prayer both sides can believe in, that at long last “The longed-for tidal wave of justice can rise up, and hope and history rhyme” and finally offer a place with two names, the one future it deserves.


30th October 2012

Here’s a blog that I wrote for The Independent on the current economic situation in Ireland:


It’s appropriate that country music has always been popular in Ireland because more and more, the place feels like a tragic Tammy Wynnette song.

My man gone done and left me and he took with him, the economy, our young people , the hopes and dreams of an entire generation and now we’ve been downgraded as a place to do business. Now, don’t that make my brown eyes blue?

The latest twist in the never ending episode of Eastenders that is the Irish economy was the news that Ireland has finally slipped out of the top ten places to do business. This annual list compares and contrasts the easiest places in the world to set up new businesses and, like the most boring Eurovision Song Contest ever, ranks them in order. So it’s good news if you are Singapore but its nil points for poor old Venezuela. Yes, you may have a welfare state that is the envy of the world but if you’re hoping for Intel to set up factories near you any time soon, then lo siento amigos.

The sad thing is that Ireland was doing everything it could to keep the international money men interested. Ever since the crash there has not been a rule Ireland hasn’t followed, a line it hasn’t diligently toed, an “I” it hasn’t diligently dotted and added in a smiley face just to be on the safe side.

When the banks collapsed, we pledged to pay back all the investors, the country went bust; we went to IMF for help. Unlike crazy Greece with its petulant demands we obediently went along with the humiliations, the cuts and slashes, like an insecure submissive at a Fifty Shades of Grey Convention, yet it still wasn’t enough. We still got dumped. If life was really like a romantic comedy this would be the scene where Ireland sits sobbing in the bath.
It’s not like we aren’t as a people used to bad news. Our history books read like a long form misery memoir.

I remember Ireland in the 1980s. It was a gloomy, corduroy trousers, brown paper covering your school books place to be. The only chinks of light were the occasional Eurovision win or when somebody won the Nobel Prize for Literature. Then things began to change. We had the youngest population in Europe, the lowest corporation tax and there was finally money in the bank. There was this animal called the Celtic Tiger, a little spotted creature that was the envy of the world.

No one was really sure what it was exactly, or what it did, but it meant that house prices tripled in value, personal debt sky rocketed and everyone felt the need to buy a second house in Bulgaria. First Communions went from being family days out involving maybe a trip to the zoo, to glamorous affairs requiring fake tans and bouncing castles in the back garden. Things sure did get classy.

I remember my Nanny mournfully saying “But what happens when it all ends?” and I looked at her with pity, like she was asking what would happen when the electricity ran away. This was the future. Ireland had just caught up with the world that was all. It was never going to end. Everything was going to be big and shiny and orange and new forever.

Then like most lies, it was found out. We realised too late that an economy based around selling and buying houses to and from each other could never last and we were more broke than ever.

Now in Ireland, you don’t ask if someone is working. It’s too rude. You talk about anything else instead. Empty half finished flats and boarded up shops fringe towns and villages like debris from another planet. No one will ever live in them. Local football teams quietly disband, there are no young people left to play in them any more. The countries brightest, best and most beloved all vanish on planes to Australia. It’s not just young people who have to leave, it’s entire families boarding planes, being waved off by ashen faced grandparents who never thought this day would come.

Luckily, as a nation we’ve listened to enough country and western music to know that it’s at the darkest moment that the quiet fight back begins. Our economy mightn’t be flashy enough to entice the fools gold of international business, but we’ve come through worse than this.

Miracles can happen, who knows international philanthropist Bono might even pay his taxes one day? Until then, we just have to hope that we win a Nobel Prize for something or the Eurovision really soon.

We still, after all, have Jedward and any country relying on them to keep their national pride intact can’t be doing that badly, can it?