He began his career in comedy thanks to an office dare, but over the past decade Russell Kane has established himself as a mainstay on the British and Irish comedy scene.
Ahead of his gig at Dublin's Olympia Theatre next month (May 11th), we caught up with the Essex boy to discuss his new show 'Right Man, Wrong Age', his comedy inspiration, being forced to grow up and the challenge of deciphering his ex-girlfriend's dad's Kilkenny accent.
Hi Russell! How are you, and where are you today?
I'm good. I've got three hours at home and I've gotta get on a train somewhere, so it's rare that I'm at home doing an interview.
We're looking forward to your Dublin gig next month - you've been here a few times?
I've done festivals and clubs, but I've only ever done one tour date there – and I've certainly never attempted to sell a big theatre, so this will be a first.
When did you first realise that you had the ability to make people laugh?
I didn't realise I was practicing to be a stand-up comic my whole life. You know that thing, where you have to do something for 10,000 hours [to be considered an expert]? Well, I did mine accidentally. I didn't watch it, I had no interest in stand-up, there was no stand-up comedy at my university, my mum and dad didn't watch it... I just accidentally practiced it, like art in the round – until one day in work, someone pointed out 'When you tell stories during meetings at work, everyone laughs – why don't you try it on stage?' It was that casual.
So, you didn't have any childhood heroes from the comedy world?
No, unless you count The Three Stooges and Laurel & Hardy.
What, then, do you think had the biggest influence when it came to formulating your distinct sense of humour?
D'you know what, I just can't answer that. I loved Laurel & Hardy and slapstick, so maybe that's why I use my body the way I use it on stage. I wasn't aware I was doing anything, know what I mean? I was just a high-energy, hyperactive, inquisitive, weird child that liked dancing around and running, and singing weird and doing weird voices. I've got no memory of not being that way – literally from six, seven years old. Mix that up with a load of books and a desire not to work in a factory with the rest of my family, and here I am on stage.
Is there any particular Laurel & Hardy film or sketch that's a favourite?
'Way Out West', I like; '[Laughing] Gravy's good; I love The Three Stooges, all of their stuff – I can dip in and out of the Marx Brothers. When I was 16 or 17, I got into Jim Carrey. I don't find his stand-up funny at all, I didn't even know he was a stand-up at that point – but the way he used his body and his facial expressions. I think that's why I love Lee Mack so much now, as a performer who's learned about comedy. I just think the way Lee Mack inhabits every word... there's something to be said for that. It goes beyond the material – whether you're talking about Brexit or whether you're talking about an old lady crossing a road, both can be equally hilarious once you're telling them in a funny way. 'Old lady crossing a road' probably is a good metaphor for Brexit, actually.
We could talk about Brexit all day...
Well, Ireland can never leave because it can't form a satisfying noun that anyone can pronounce, so you're stuck forever. (laughs)
Indeed. You studied English at university, and got a degree in Media Writing – was a career in journalism what you were hoping to pursue?
Yeah. Journalism or anything to do with words, where I could sit down and write stories and get paid. Obviously what I wanted to do was write a novel, write a play, write a book, something like that – but I knew you needed a 'real' job to fill in while you were doing that. So that was the idea. In the end, I ended up being a copywriter in an advertising agency.
So when did you realise that a career in comedy was viable?
Well, it was this guy in work, like I mentioned – he dared me [to try stand-up]. So I did it, only in the same way as someone might do a skydive, that sort of attitude: Okay, why not... you only live once', that sort of thing. So I did it and I was like 'Bloody hell. Clearly I'm an egomaniac that needs approval every night of the week.'
You've done quite a bit of TV work around society and people, like your series 'Freak Like Me'. What draws you to that subject matter in particular?
I'm fascinated by things like nationality, national stereotypes, gender, class... because they're so funny. Honestly, there's so much in there. I can fly to Ireland tomorrow, do a gig in Galway, make fun of Dublin for five minutes and the whole room will fall around laughing. Shit like that just fascinates me, how we carve ourselves up into little tribes that are all made up in our heads. It's very funny if you get the right elements of it.
There's a lot of that in Ireland...
Yeah, I went out with an Irish girl for four years, so I've got good knowledge. Her mum was from Mayo and her dad was from Kilkenny, so I've spent time on both sides of the country. Although I couldn't understand what was being said to me. The Kilkenny accent is something else. Her dad was from Clogher, a tiny village south of Kilkenny, and he used to speak like 'Hawwwaahhahahahahaaaaaawwww'. I was like 'What? That was a sentence?'. And as for Cork... have you see the movie 'Arrival' yet, where they're trying to work out what the aliens are saying? That's what it was like when I was in Cork, it was so funny.
What's the one misconception that people have about Russell Kane?
That I'm Nick Grimshaw and that I'm gay. That's the most common thing. That's a misperception, not even a misconception. I don't know how well-known Nick Grimshaw is in Ireland, but...
He's quite well known because of The X Factor.
Well, there you go. I'll have to deal with it there, as well.
You've spoken about stage fright in the past – do you still deal with that?
I get it when it's a line-up with multiple comedians at big events. So for example, for my Dublin tour date, I'll have adrenaline and nerves, but not stage fright because everyone's there to see me. So even if I only get four or five hundred people, I know they're all going to pull together – particularly in Dublin – and everyone will have a wicked night. But if it was a big Irish gala, and Tommy Tiernan was hosting and Jason Byrne was in the middle, and Andrew Maxwell... and I'm just dumped in the middle of that in front of 2000 people, then I'd get really nervous – because I've got to do that 'conversion' thing.
Let's talk about your new show, 'Right Man, Wrong Age'. Is it true that its genesis came via an encounter with a window cleaner?
The window cleaner story, I'd totally forgotten about that! I'd just moved into my new house, the first house that I'd ever owned – a big posh house, and this whole journey had been about getting to this grown-up point. A man at the end of his thirties, I should have been really mature – but the window cleaner [knocked at the door] and didn't even hestitate. He just said 'Sorry, is your mum there, please?' I thought 'Oh, I really have taken a wrong turn with how I put myself across, maturity-wise' (laughs). Then I had a mirror moment; I looked in the mirror and I had all this spiky hair, I was putting fake tan on... I thought 'What the fuck are you doing?!' From that point on, I decided 'Right, grow up, man up, comb your hair, settle down, get in a proper relationship, blah blah blah.'
You passed 40 a couple of years ago – was there anything about passing that milestone age that surprised you about yourself?
Yes – that my face isn't aging at the same age as the rest of me. That's a common misconception – people think I'm younger than I am. A lot younger; not like 'Oh, I thought you were 35'. So obviously, when people thought I was a lot younger the temptation was to say 'Yeah, I am.' But I get in trouble if I lie about my age. I got IDed for buying alcohol in Vegas the last time we went, and that was only a year and a half ago. Honestly, you wouldn't believe how many people mistake me for being younger.
So is that sort of stuff can we expect from your Dublin show next month, then?
Well, that's what I thought the show was going to be about – but as you'll learn, I've been put in my place by people older than me, saying 'This is the youngest you're ever gonna feel', 'This is the best decade of your life', etc. - so I don't go on about that anymore because I got so many fricking complaints. So you can expect a high-energy show, full of improvisation and rib-breaking hilarity as a man who explores what it means to be forced to grow up.
Are there any major ambitions that you still want to tick off?
Sitcom. I want to do a sitcom based around my dad. He's in this show a shitload, a lot more than he was in the first run of shows, he dominates it now. And I'd like to be in a movie where I'm fully acting, an American movie – just one, just like I've written one novel. But fully acting in a movie with a big part, and a sitcom... there you go.
Russell Kane plays Dublin's Olympia Theatre on May 11th. Tickets are from €28 including booking fee, and on sale from usual outlets now. Win yourself a pair of tickets here!