4 Feb 2024

Russell Howard: 'British people look like dropped pies'

From Sunday Morning, 8:10 am on 4 February 2024
British stand-up comedian Russell Howard and Radio New Zealand's Jim Mora.

Russell Howard and Jim Mora in the RNZ Auckland studio Photo: Sally Ward

Britain is an island of people who maybe aren’t the best-looking in the world, but they have the gift of being funny, says British stand-up Russell Howard.

“I think the Brits are very good at taking the piss out of ourselves. If there's any kind of tragedy, if there's a funeral, if something sad has happened, straightaway all the WhatsApp groups, all these kinds of jokes. And that's kind of the currency.

“Because we are, as a species, we look like dropped pies. We're not a particularly good-looking bunch. But we are kind of funny and sort of pisstakey.

“Whereas you go to Scandinavia, beautiful people, cheekbones for days, they don't need to work on their personality.”

Comedian Russell Howard

Photo: Craig Sugden

Howard’s in New Zealand for the Down Under leg of his Wonderbox tour.

It’s not his first visit, and he loves the friendliness of the place he told Jim Mora, even if it’s a little too friendly at times.

“I was in Tauranga and a man stopped by in a pickup truck and said, ‘You're my wife's weird crush’ and then kind of narrowed his eyes and went ‘What d’ya reckon?’

“So that's taken friendliness to a real level, where you’re kind of offering your wife. But I felt great. It says a lot about the male ego that you're like, ‘ahh that's quite nice.’”

Howard is a Liverpool fan and feels bereft at the recently announced departure of manager Jürgen Klopp.

“Being a Liverpool fan for many years now, I've had various stepdads and not all of them are great. And then finally mum went and bagged herself a German, who was everything I wanted in a dad, and we've had nine glorious years. And my dad's leaving my mum again. And we'll have another stepdad, that won't be as good.”

No slouch at football himself, Howard has played with some of the greats in Soccer Aid charity football matches back in the UK.

Playing with the likes of Cafu, the great Brazilian defender, was an eye-opener, he says.

“He's like a multiple World Cup winner and he was older than me but still it was just … they’re a different species. It’s like that that bit in Jurassic Park, when the dinosaurs whizzed past Sam Neill.” 

Talking of Sam Neill, Howard has fond memories of massaging Neill’s pig after a few glasses of his Otago Pinot Noir when he was filming Russell Howard Stands Up to the World.

“My hands smelt great as well after I’d been rubbing the pig. The friction had given me a sort of a bacony musk - which would be a great aftershave.”

Noticing things, the minutiae of life, is the source of much of his comedy, he says.

“I was reading this thing earlier in the paper, a debate in Parliament about sending troops to [the Red Sea].

“And you've sent six troops. Now, instantly that is interesting to me. Because that's a funny phone call to have with Biden …’we've got your back.’ We're sending over some troops we’ve got six. Thousand? No six.

“This is a minivan of, I'm sure, top warriors, but just reading that and being here and going, ‘Oh, that's kind of funny’.”

Russell Howard

Photo: Craig Sugden

An encounter he had in a Cambridge park is an example of being attuned to life’s absurdities.

“There's a park in Cambridge called Jesus Green, which sounds like pretty potent marijuana.

“And I was walking and there's this lady and she said, Just apropos of nothing, she was with her dog, ‘he's having the snip tomorrow’. I hadn't asked. And she just covered her mouth and went ‘he doesn't know’, and sort of just drifted away.”

It was a brief encounter, but she will be with him forever, he says.

“I found this woman who wasn't even trying to be funny, but just gave me this slice of sort of beautiful, British, old, posh lady lunacy.”

Everything is out there, Howard says, you just have to notice.

“I think that's what I've spent my life doing, sort of shuffling after interesting, peculiar people.”

Observing human life started early for Howard, who comes from a large and eccentric family.

“I remember being at family parties when I was a kid, and it was like being in a Pogues song.

“My uncle John was teaching karate out of his garage, and he doesn't know karate, but blokes were rocking up, and he was teaching them a one-inch punch.

“I've got an aunty who's dancing to the noise that the microwave makes when it defrosts chicken. It was just sensory overload.”

He suspects this may be the origin of his lazy eye.

“My eyes were just ‘right, we're gonna have to split up, there's too much going on.’”

Famously quick-thinking, there are times on stage when it just clicks, Howard says.

“I remember I got heckled in Auckland last time I was here. And this bloke bellowed ‘would you ever put a hamster in a condom and shove it up your ass? And that was the heckle that was thrown at me - which is pretty full on.

“I sort of paused and was like, ‘it's your commitment to safety that I admire.’

“And then there was another pause as they laughed, and I went ‘probably not I've got allergies.’

“And it was the quickest way that I could go 'bom bom dealt with', and kind of make a filthy heckle inventive.”

Some quickfire questions

Did you ever wish you had a different first name?


Favourite Marvel character?

Don't know, don't watch them.

The comedian who's made you laugh more than any other comedian ever?

Billy Connolly.

Which animal brings more joy into the world, the Kiwi or the kangaroo?

I would say the kangaroo because I've seen more videos of them fighting.

What's the first question you would ask Taylor Swift?

What's it like being in the middle of the thunderstorm of your life? What do you do when you're not gigging? Take me through a Sunday off. I want to know what you eat for breakfast. I want to know your comfort TV. I want to know who you hang out with. Do you leave the house? Do you stay inside? Does someone come over? Do you do a slob out? I want to know what she does when the world's not looking.

Name three things in New Zealand you would put into your wonderbox.

The manu …Kiwi ingenuity. On the show last time we were in Queenstown, it was raining quite heavily, and the sound guy was putting condoms over all this equipment because it kept all his equipment safe. And it turns out every couple of months he has to go to a sex shop and buy a load of condoms in bulk - Kiwi ingenuity.

And probably the drinking game possums, which I learned in Dunedin, which is where you get in a tree, drink a load of beers. And if you fall out the tree, you're a possum.

I would say manus, possums and Kiwi ingenuity.

Russell Howard is currently on tour in New Zealand. See here for dates. His new podcast, Wonderbox, is released weekly on Wednesdays and available on all major podcast platforms.