With familiar themes, even when the material is new this has the feel of a greatest hits set.
Russell Howard is the Ronan Keating of comedy. The stand-up has matured and successfully taken his audience along with him. With Russell Brand spiralling off in a different direction, Howard has reclaimed the title of comedy’s number one Russell, albeit with Russell Kane nipping at his boxfresh trainers.
This new show, simply called Russell Howard Live, swiftly follows the 43-year-old Bristolian’s last show Respite, which finally reached London in 2021. Maybe too swiftly. At times he seems to be circling around themes that are so familiar that even when the material is new this has the feel of a greatest hits set.
The nimble comic’s main notion here is that we should be grateful to be alive. Every one of us is a sperm who made it against the odds. Hardly profound, but Howard does find plenty of crude laughs speculating on where the sperm that didn’t result in babies ended up.
Like other recent Howard shows there is politics alongside the smutty gags, but he skates around hot button topics without digging too deeply. He is good though on toxic masculinity and the disturbing popularity of Andrew Tate among young boys. Elsewhere he prefers the centre rather than extremes, concluding that if we could all meet in the middle the world would be a happier place.
Sometimes his through-line feels inconsistent. He repeatedly mocks his profession, claiming that all he does is think of funny things and then say them, whereas his wife is a doctor. Yet he also says “laughter is the lubricant that makes life liveable,” which suggests that he thinks his vocation is pretty essential.
At least he has the self-awareness to send himself up, confessing to a fear of dying that prompted him to buy a thousand pound “wellness necklace”. And while he attacks the press for clickbait articles he can see the humorous side to inaccurate stories about him, including one report that he wanted to open a gym exclusively for grannies.
The strongest material emerges when he gets personal. Howard always features his family and here he reveals how his inveterate prankster brother lost a job because he couldn’t resist singing a sitcom theme tune to a customer. He also once shaved his eyebrows off, persuading Russell to follow suit.
In the tradition of comics including a sad bit, towards the end Howard talks about his father having a chainsaw-related accident. It sounds horrendous, but needless to say this story, like the rest of this show, is peppered with punchlines. Not a vintage Howard set perhaps, but you’d have to be made of stone not to leave with a smile on your face.