“I was there the night he got cancelled,” Noble said last night about himself, about two-thirds of the way through another of his chaotic shows, that always feel like improv, mixed in with things that have been on his mind and maybe some scripted material weaved in just to make sure the show lasts an hour.
My heart sank. I’ve always admired Noble for his gift of talking with the audience and finding new ways into and out of stories, digressions and tangents upon tangents and digressions, all the while heading somewhere ludicrous and funny.
I’ve seen him on stage a couple of times but there may have been ten years since the last time and this time I was watching to perhaps figure out how he does it.
Ross spent a lot of last night talking about his process and what the audience expects. He really made a meal of talking about the departures and detours he took from the stories he was trying to get through. Playing into the expectations of the audience who had seen him before and potentially baffling those who hadn’t.
Between jokes about Obama’s speaking tour and the doppler effect of Formula One noise, he squeezed in observations about the royal family and leather pants and a wild recreation of the Matrix if it was about dominoes, ie. The Dominatrix. And you know that however much planning might have gone into it, he’s always walking a tightrope, stringing together bits of audience interaction and whatever nonsense he’s already ranted about.
And then the casual racism started. He was talking about religion and the camel going through the eye of the needle (and the straw that broke the camel’s back) and when the camel spoke it came with a generic Middle East accent and he pulled himself up, knowing that might be going too far. But he’d already said it and then came a string of jokes about snowmen, snow women and how hard it is to play “Guess Who” anymore because you upset people for assuming someone’s gender.
He might have clawed back respect from some audience members by saying he stood with his transgender friends, but it was too little, too late for me. The artifice had started to fall apart and even if he was making all of this up on the spot, it was too much like Ross Noble felt it was really hard for him – a straight, white, cis man – to be expected to handle gender politics appropriately.
Soon after, during a story about his wife and her frozen shoulder, he ended up doing a Nazi salute on the stage of the Playhouse Theatre and joked that he might be arrested for that in Victoria.
All of the really hot topics in this show have been on the boil in Melbourne these last couple of weeks. Ross Noble knows that. His brand of comedy doesn’t really have the nuance to tackle this stuff with any insight, regardless of how much he shouts “satire” to underline his jokes.
“I was there the night he got cancelled” is the kind of joke armour that straight white male comedians think protects them from criticism. He thinks “cancel culture” for comedians is ludicrous and if he jokes about it, maybe he can get away with more inappropriate stuff before the end of the show.
He even knows that his style can be off-putting and he’s fully aware of when he’s losing the audience and he scrabbles around trying to get them back. Maybe his chaotic energy accounts for some nonsense coming off worse than he really means, but the trans jokes and the Nazi salute killed it all dead for me. No matter how much I laughed at his earlier parade of jokes that lead from emojis to eggplants to moussaka to a pasta/pastor joke that ended with an eggplant inside a holy man.
So, no more straight white male comedians at this Comedy Festival for me.
Ross Noble is playing the entire length of the Comedy Festival.
This review won’t affect sales either way, so rather than linking to Noble's page, here’s a link to the Victorian Pride Centre’s Recommendations!
- Keith Gow, Theatre First