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Russell Howard: Round The World review

| Comedy | 17/03/2017

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Rating:

Last week, Russell Howard beat the record held by Frank Sinatra and Barry Manilow by performing for ten consecutive nights at a packed Royal Albert Hall.  Before Howard’s Round The World Tour moved on to the rest of the UK and Ireland, Ian Cater reviewed what turned out to be ‘a very entertaining and uplifting evening’.

Russell Howard is quite rightly one of Britain’s most successful comedians, using his ‘everyman’ likability and unashamed positivity to pack arenas like this one night after night.  But that success has come at a cost.  In recent years, some have become snide about his act – not least Stewart Lee, whose on-stage comedy policeman lays charge after charge at Howard’s door in his current Content Provider show.

Some of that may be justified: by taking the big bucks on offer from first the BBC and now Sky, and having the nerve to promulgate upbeat messages, Howard’s opened himself up to a slice of the cynicism his own brand of comedy usually avoids.  However, a lot of it is unfair, especially when he delivers such a well-balanced set as this, shining a light on British society’s problems but refusing to wallow in them.

RH_RTW_FINAL_WITHLOGOThe title Round The World is something of a misnomer.  Although the show dedicates some time to Howard’s recent travels in Africa and the US, it mainly focuses on celebrating local oddballs.  “Let’s hear it for the lunatics,” he yells.  “The world is far too full of beige fuckers … and not in a UKIP way.”  These characters invariably speak in his exaggerated Bristolian accent, injecting them with an instant hit of affectionate naivety.

As usual, Howard’s family – openly classed in the oddball category – gets plenty of airtime.  There’s his brother, to whom he dedicates an early firework burst “because he has epilepsy”, and sister, who still treats the pair of them like babies.  His parents are spared too much lampooning due to their steadying influence, although he regularly celebrates his mum’s whimsical outlook (“Have you ever noticed how cows have no emotional range, Russ?”).  Finally, there are Howard’s grandparents, who dominate the most moving parts of the show, addressing loss and dementia.  Each mini character-study is handled with clear-eyed analysis and love.

That empathy doesn’t extend to those opposing his liberal views, with predictable if amusing barbs aimed at Donald Trump, Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson (“part alpaca, part Lurpak man”).  Although these sections could be a lot braver, Howard’s decision only to paddle in politics comes as a slight relief in sea of abundant topical material.

If his heart isn’t in political commentary, Howard’s enthusiasm makes its presence felt elsewhere, lending impressive pace and engagement.  He bemoans the terrorist scaremongering now inflicted on kids (“In the 90s, we were only warned about the dangers of red berries on bushes, wedgies and leaning back on chairs”), and becomes emotional discussing the incidence of self-harm amongst 15 to 26 year-olds and mistreatment of young girls.  “We used to make you mixtapes and compare you to summers days,” he says.  “Now, thanks to Tinder, we bombard you with dick pics.”

Occasionally earnestness spills into triteness: Howard’s alternative national anthem is a case in point.  But elsewhere, he enjoys being released from the shackles of TV to dabble in some edgy humour about the Queen, of which former Mock The Week colleague Frankie Boyle would approve.  And unlike some of his more sardonic rivals, Howard doesn’t just whinge.  He proposes a solution: embracing your own weirdness as the political narrative grows increasingly serious.  Be like kids, is his message; don’t make them be like you.  Because there’s only one winner in this argument: “Stop touching your willy, Son – it’ll make you go blind.”  “Yeah, Dad.  But then I’ll have a willy and a dog.”

It may not be the most original show you’ll ever see, but Round The World showcases Howard at something approaching his best.  And that makes for a very entertaining and uplifting evening.

Russell Howard is taking Round The Wold on an international tour until August 2017.  For dates, venues and tickets, head here to his official website.  To keep up to speed on Russell’s latest work, follow him on Twitter @RussellHoward.

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