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The Noble art of Freewheeling: Comic Ross Noble is loving being on home turf

Cramlington-born comic is playing a five-night residency at Newcastle City Hall and you can be sure no two nights will be the same

Comedian Ross Noble
Comedian Ross Noble

As pitches for television shows go, comedian Ross Noble’s opening gambit to get the first series of Freewheeling filmed could have been plucked straight out of a scene from The Producers.

“I said, ‘Right, this is the show. It’s basically got no format whatsoever, nothing’s planned, there’s no pre-production. We just get a film crew and then someone tweets me. Then we decide to make up the show based on that and see what happens,” says Ross, recreating the pitch in the offices of the Dave channel.

He goes on a bit more (which won’t surprise anyone who has seen his brilliantly rambling stand-up).

“It’s sort of a travel show, but there won’t be any tourist attractions or views. You definitely won’t learn anything.

“It will just be a TV show, which is essentially just messing about and filming it.

“It’s a show, and we don’t know what it’s going to be until we’ve done it. What do you reckon?’”

I’m imagining him standing proudly with his arms folded in front of the commissioning panel at this point.

“And then they said ‘go on then’. How great is that?” he says, still sounding a bit like he can’t believe it.

Having spoken to Cramlington-born Ross a number of times over the years – he’s been doing comedy since his first spot at Newcastle’s Hyena Cafe in 1991 when he was 15 – I was surprised when I heard he was doing a TV show. The first series aired in 2013. Whenever the subject of telly had come up in interviews, he’d always said it wasn’t for him.

Of course, when I heard what Freewheeling was actually going to be like, I couldn’t think of anyone else who would have the wherewith all to do it.

“It’s brilliant that it got made,” he says. “TV across the board is massively risk averse because you’re talking about massive sums of money and trying to appeal to huge amounts of people... and if it goes wrong, people lose their jobs and stuff. “I’ve never been anti telly. The problem is that most telly is done by layer upon layer of people interfering and it’s not always for the better. You’ve got to protect what you do.

“I’ve only done shows which allow me to be true to what I do,” he continues, again.

“So with panel shows, I’ll do Have I Got News For You and QI. Those are the only two, because they’re like: ‘here’s a thing, be funny about it’ which is fine. A lot of the other panel shows are either prepared in advance so it’s not about improvising and being funny, or you’re just sitting there while all this stuff goes on around you.

“Basically what I’m saying is that I’m a massive control freak,” he laughs at his long-windedness and then proves his final point by telling me he’s directed the second series, which is due to screen in the new year.

Once again it will see Ross and the crew using tweets from the public to guide their tour of the UK.

“I really enjoyed doing another series,” he says. “Each episode has got more of a story, and there’s a lot more bringing people along for the ride. Like when I tweeted: What isn’t there enough of on TV? One minute I’ve got a bloke dressed as the Chuckle Brothers trying to get around a course guided by a guide dog... and then the next minute I’m doing taxidermy on a mouse, on a barge on the Thames. Where else can you see that?”

I’m getting a sense Ross has found the perfect vehicle for boundless imagination. Known for being the best in the business when it comes to improvisational comedy, he can quite happily fuel the first half of a show with audience chat and the odd flight of fancy – which could take the assembled masses anywhere.

And now he has engineered a way of not only verbalising his ideas, but putting them in front of people too.

“I know, it’s great isn’t it?” says the 38-year-old father of two. “With stand-up, you might come up with an idea and you can create images in people’s minds, but in Freewheeling, I come up with an idea and then I can actually go and do it.”

Not that the TV thing could ever replace live comedy, mind you. As you read this, Ross will be preparing for tonight’s gig at Newcastle City Hall. He is in the middle of five consecutive dates at the venue, booked as part of his Tangentleman tour.

Unsurprisingly, Ross is unable to provide much of a trailer.

“It is what it is,” he laughs. “It’s the usual trip around my head combined with whoever happens to be there on the night and the vibe in the room... and the weather.”

Looking at his tour schedule, which runs until February, it’s not hard to spot the city which holds a special place. Ross doesn’t play five dates anywhere else in the UK.

I wonder whether this is because his home crowd buy more tickets, or the headline act likes spending some extra time biking around the North East countryside (as Ross’ followers will know, he is a mad keen and now competing motorbike rider who will be found “going from forest to forest” during the daytime on tour).

“It’s a bit of both really,” he says. “It’s a good time to catch up with the family and I like doing multiple dates. For five nights at the City Hall, I could do one night at the Arena, but I don’t necessarily want to do that. It’s nice to be back here for a bit.”

It’s a sentiment which also applied when the makers of an Australian TV show called Home Delivery got in touch. Ross’ wife Fran is Australian and the couple lived there with their then only child, Elf, until 2009 when their house was destroyed by bushfires. They moved back to the UK and settled in Kent in 2010 and have since welcomed another daughter, Willow, who is almost two. They still visit Australia regularly though, where Ross plays strings of sell-out dates all over the country. Hence the interest from the TV company. (That felt like a bit of a Noblesque way of explaining that... it must be catching.)

“It’s like Who Do You Think You Are? but they don’t go past your parents,” Ross explains the format of the show. “They look at where you played, where you went to school, where you hung out... what sort of posters you had on your wall. It’s all about reminiscing about your childhood really.

“They turn up to pick you up in the same car that you had when you were a kid. Ours was a Marina. Then you drive back to your childhood home and knock on the door.

“I remembered loads I’d forgotten. Looking out the window at the house opposite, I remembered there was a dragon in the brickwork. I used to stare at the brickwork and find pictures and stuff in it. I haven’t thought about that for 25 years.

“It was nice. Well, it’s always nice to come home isn’t it?”

Ross Noble: Tangentleman plays Newcastle City Hall until Saturday. For tickets, call 0191 277 8030 or visit www.newcastlecityhall.org

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