Stand-up may be his stock-in- trade, but Ross Noble isn’t exactly playing against type as a killer zombie clown in the Irish comedy horror Stitches. He tells DONALD CLARKEabout the switch from stage to screen
IT SAYS something about Ross Noble’s stage presence that he proves ideally suited to playing a zombie clown with a taste for making “balloon” animals from his victim’s innards. This is not to suggest there is anything menacing about Noble’s stand-up act. But he has always enjoyed teasing the boundary between everyday absurdity and full-on surrealism.
“I have come to the realisation that what I like – in comedy or movies – is real characters in fantastical situations or fantastical characters in real situations,” he explains.
Noble gets to exercise that passion in a new comedy horror film from Irish director Conor McMahon, called Stitches. The comic plays a children’s entertainer who rises from the grave to terrorise some stereotypically dissolute teenagers at a wild party. Blood flows throughout.
“I read the script and he had me at ‘knife in the face,’” he says.
The film-makers haven’t quite adopted the technique, honed to perfection by the Father Ted boys, of writing parts that allow stand-up comics to convert their familiar acts into broad characters. But the shambling, hairy clown feels like a Noble creation.
“Yeah, Father Ted was brilliant for that,” he says. “But you have to be careful going down that road as a comic.”
We are used to comics breaking out of their comfort zones. After a decade or so in the business, the average stand-up invariably starts turning his mind to novels, movies or straight plays. Up to now, however, Noble has remained pretty faithful to his core medium.
Now 36, he started out as a street entertainer, before gradually amassing a fanatical following for his (the word is appropriate) unique school of unhinged stream of consciousness. Any random memory or stray heckle can germinate wild ramblings that – guided by some instinctive genius – eventually find their own organic structure.
He has appeared on the odd panel show. Rare is the successful comic who has not discussed cheese in the presence of David Mitchell. But he hasn’t written that book. And this is his first significant acting role.
“So, why have I finally sold out?” he says in his Tyneside burr.
No, no, no. There’s no reason why a comic shouldn’t stretch every creative muscle. When such a person writes a novel, it doesn’t necessarily mean they think they are moving on to a more valid art form.
“I think some of them are, though, especially those who have become famous through telly,” he says.
Okay then. So, why is he finally moving into another field?
“I’d say two things,” he muses. “Firstly, I have always been very protective of my stand-up. I wanted to be known as a stand-up. I didn’t want people to come just because I had been on the telly. I wanted them to come because I was a really good stand-up. I didn’t want to be this media person. Secondly, I have pretty much achieved all I can. I don’t mean creatively, but in terms of audience numbers. I’ve paid my dues.”
Some Noble fans may be surprised to hear him talk this way. He seems to be suggesting that – like Eddie Izzard in the very early years – he has been assiduously shunning the evil cathode ray. But Noble has a familiar face (and even more familiar untamed hair). Over the past 20 years, the TV panel show has provided stand-up comics with the basis of a very nice pension plan. Have I got QI for the Buzzcocks? could not exist without their input. Noble has been there, has he not?