He may be a larger-than-life presence on stage and able to sell out large venues across the country, but Russell Kane is currently intrigued by small things.
On his new national tour, he is shunning the sprawling arenas and has booked rooms which vary in capacity from 200 to 1200 seaters, all of which is in keeping with the theme and title of his show: Smallness. As a warm-up to the tour, at the Edinburgh Fringe, he even played the tiniest room he could find at the Pleasance Courtyard, performing to just 55 people each night.
“I’m by no means the first person in the theatre to do this but I wanted the space to comment on the material, and you don’t often get that luxury. But if you were doing a show about the letter T and you could find a T-shaped theatre, you’d be insane not to do that. I see what I do as work, so for the last show I was promoted up a level, playing slightly bigger rooms and being a little bit more recognisable. Maybe the next one will be called Largeness and I’ll put ten Hammersmith Apollo dates on sale.”
The idea of his new show has several layers, revolving around notions of smallness, whether it’s to do with the British psyche or the way that we all look back on our lives. “I’ve experienced this feeling of nostalgia a hundred times. I left university and landed the dream job doing copywriting, so why am I thinking about university? When I’m at university, why am I thinking about my nan’s flat: well, we’re addicted to the smaller. I think it was Schopenhauer’s theory that we’re cursed by longing for the thing in front, so we grab it and then long for where we were before.”
Kane is the ideas man of comedy. He crams stories, references and (yes) observations into his shows, but which remain fixed to a central idea. So, in his Edinburgh Comedy Award-winning set, Smokescreens and Castles, he explored Englishness and the relationship he had with his father; cultural snobbery is analysed in Russell Kane’s Theory of Pretension; and the transatlantic divide is picked apart in Gaping Flaws.
In Smallness, his theory is fleshed out with material about semi-celebrityhood (he makes much comedy hay out of being mistaken quite a few times for Radio 1 DJ Nick Grimshaw), his relationship with fiancée Lindsey (she’s from the north, he’s from the south) and a surreal encounter in a hot tub with former Pussycat Doll Nicole Scherzinger and her Formula One partner, Lewis Hamilton. And there are moments of ugly confrontation, with bullying schoolkids in an art gallery and drunken Geordies on holiday in the Far East.
“I don’t write down my stand-up ever; you won’t find a document on my laptop that says ‘Smallness by Russell Kane’. At the top of the show just now, there’s a bit about Britishness and falling over, there’s the thing in the art gallery, there’s a routine about Nicole Scherzinger, there’s Lindsey saying ‘booter’ (butter), there’s a bit about sleeping through the night and then there’s the Thailand story: that’s an hour as it is. If you’ve ever seen a show by me two nights in a row, I think you’ll be shocked at how different each night is: there are different endings and I’ll leave bits out. I don’t know how to write jokes and I don’t have punchlines. So when I’m on the road, the show will be bits growing off the end of other bits. I may add a dramatic element to a story, but everything is true, really true. I’m literally telling the stories that would have made my friends laugh down the pub, and I’m still doing that.”
With such an active mind as Kane’s, it’s little wonder that he has several things on the go at the same time. Filming has been completed on the third series of his BBC Three show, Live at the Electric, in which he performs stand-up in between introducing new sketch show acts. “The viewing figures for the second series were good and so it’s up to the BBC how they want to play it with the third one. I see it as a gothy McIntyre Roadshow thing, that’s been recorded underneath the theatre where the Roadshow is filmed with all these sketch acts that never get a look-in.”
Alongside Greg James, Kane also has a new BBC Three chat show with celebrity guests coming up entitled Staying in With Greg & Russell. According to the BBC statement, the eight-part series will be recorded in a ‘surreal, studio version of the duo’s dream pad’ utilising the pair’s ‘charm, hospitality and flair for what really makes a memorable evening’.
He is also thinking about writing a second novel. His first one, The Humorist featured a comedy critic who is physically unable to crack a smile never mind let out a hearty laugh. But could this distance actually help him to intellectually crack the code of ‘the perfect joke’? Discussions with publishers have occurred but they have yet to give him the nod for the fiction he really wants to write: “we’ve had the post-colonial story time and time again and we’ve heard the American story, but no one has done the 600-page dynastic doorstopper on the white working-class story from 1850 through to now.”
But the stand-up stage is where Kane is at his most alive. “I’m very comfortable when I’m on stage, and that’s my job, my bread and butter. At heart I’m a writer, I love creating things. My problem is that even when I was a copywriter, I struggled getting up in front of people; even though I was funny and could be charismatic with clients, and good at selling an idea, I really struggled with doing the pitch: I got really ill before doing it. When I started the stand-up it was an amplified version of that and it hasn’t gone away really. There’s something about stand-up that’s uniquely terrifying. I did a personality test when I was doing my job and I was shocked that it concluded I was an introvert: at dinner with family and friends, I can dominate a conversation, but in real life, I’m weirdly shy.” Thankfully, Russell Kane has battled that potentially debilitating aspect of his personality and won to become the truly world-class stand-up he is today.
For tickets and details for Russell Kane’s brand new tour Smallness go to www.russellkane.co.uk