Russell Kane coming soon to Cambridge
The Essex-born comedian will be at the Corn Exchange next month. He speaks to James Kettle.
Russell Kane is more than just a stand-up. He’s like a comedy David Attenborough who, instead of the animal kingdom, focuses his attention on the way blokes from the south-east behave.
Raised in Essex, he was a bookish wallflower in a world of geezers. “I was a weedy boy at school and my dad was a rugby player,” he says.
Now the star of TV shows like Stupid Man, Smart Phone and Live At the Electric dissects bloke-ish behaviour onstage, with always hilarious results.
“I find it easy to pick apart a certain kind of masculinity,” he says. “The way they talk, the way they behave in public, the ways they compete with each other and the ways they try to interact with women.”
Despite being a bit of an oddity growing up, there is a part of Russell’s psyche that is classic Essex.
“Books are my thing,” he says, “but the second I saw Ibiza Rocks are having a comedian in residence this summer, I was like, ‘I’d love to get out there and have it in Ibiza’. And my wife’s like, ‘What’s wrong with you?’”
It’s all part of the Russell Kane contradiction. “I love curries, I love pints with the lads, I like BMWs – I’m a weird mess.”
That feeds into his fascination with class – not in a ranty political way, but on a more anthropological level.
He’s a brilliant chronicler of how British people from different backgrounds look at each other. And he’s amazed by how little class is talked about as a subject, particularly by comedians.
“People just don’t want to analyse the prejudice that’s out there,” he says. “And the weird thing is it’s the number one predictor. Doesn’t matter what gender you are or how able-bodied you are.
"The socio-economic background of your parents is the number one predictor of where you’ll end up in life.”
Class explains the way some snootier people react to Russell – if he talked like Stephen Fry, he’d probably be taken a lot more seriously.
But the juxtaposition of big ideas and polysyllabic language with an estuary accent means he can sometimes get wrongly labelled as a show-off or a faker.
“If a comedian with my type of accent dares to use a long word, it’s seen as display rather than intrinsic knowledge coming to the surface.”
So he works hard to make sure he’s not being erudite for the sake of erudition. Essex is as much a part of Russell’s comedy as Glasgow is for Kevin Bridges or Wales is for Rhod Gilbert.
So it’s funny to hear that he’s now a fish out of water, living up north in leafy Cheshire. But rather than isolating him from his old stamping ground, it’s made him think about it all the more.
“It’s really brought into focus how weird, fast-paced, angry and culturally unique the south-east of England is,” he explains.
“Now that I’m up in Cheshire, I realise how fast-paced and chaotic and anonymous we can be down south.
"I’ve been performing a bit about the difference between ordering a coffee in London or Essex, or ordering a coffee up north.
"In the north there’s someone asking about ‘Barbara’ and, ‘How are the grandkids?’, and down south you’re saying, 'Just throw an espresso in my face, now when’s my train? Move! Move! Move!”
That’s part of the story behind Russell’s new show, The Fast and the Curious – though he’s keen to point out that the main focus of the evening will not be expounding some grand philosophical theory.
“I know I can do shows with a clever theme and all that,” he says, “but I just want to do a beltingly funny night in the theatre.
“So at 10.30pm, you can’t move for the pain of laughing. That’s my only objective.” However, he’s aware that he might frustrate his own aims.
“Because of the way my brain works, my writer brain, it ends up being about fatherhood or this that or the other.”
One of the things Russell – winner of the Edinburgh Comedy Award in 2011 for his show Smokescreens and Castles – does want to talk about this time is the way humanity seems to be divided into two distinct
groups – not rich and poor, or men and women, but a distinction that is possibly even more fundamental.
“As far as I can tell, there’s broadly two tribes that get things done in our western culture. Half of us have this sort of restless brain, always working.”
These are the people who pace up and down, who can’t bear being delayed, who are always either stressing out or chasing excitement.
“The second group is the ‘life’s too short, man, chill out. It’s a red bill, who cares, they’re not going to seize your house’.”
The type of people who, in Russell’s words, think “a traffic jam is an opportunity for a word game.” According to him, these two groups aren’t adversaries.
“They’re the two tribes and they need each other. You tend to marry one of the opposite group.
"If you’re not sure which one you are, ask yourselves this – when you’re going on holiday, which of you goes on TripAdvisor, looks up all the hotels and restaurants and sucks the fun out of the trip before you go?”
There’s no doubting which camp Kane belongs to.
Russell Kane will be bringing his Fast and the Curious tour to the Cambridge Corn Exchange on Friday, April 5 at 8pm.
Box office: cornex.co.uk