■ The comedian, 38, on dancing politicians, the joy of Stormzy and the return of The Russell Howard Hour
You can’t really rehearse a show like The Russell Howard Hour, can you?
No, it’s topical. I was watching the news recently and there was a story about attacks on NHS staff being at an all-time high. It’s always better when it’s stuff you’re passionate about, things that don’t make sense. It has to be something that really gets hold of you.
Your defence of the police got a big response in the last series. Did you hear from police officers about that?
Yeah, I’ll be walking along and I’ll see a police officer coming towards me and it’ll be, ‘Hey, thanks very much’ or they’ll want a photo but it’s so scary. You automatically think, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’ then it’s, ‘Thank you!’
The whole thing was just to get off driving tickets, wasn’t it?
[Laughs] I should have thought about that. I could have milked it.
The first series of The Russell Howard Hour was a smash hit. Was that a surprise?
It actually came off the back of my last stand-up show, which was a lot more… I hate to say political but issue-driven. The people who come to watch me are very everyday and lovely. I’m lucky in that I’ve got a very normal audience. And it’s about connecting with them. There was a big thing about how one in four of 16- to 25-year-old girls self-harms and my thinking behind it was if I can make it a feature and talk about it, maybe someone like my dad would come to that show and he would go home and talk to his daughter about it. You hear people say you can’t achieve anything with comedy but I had loads of letters and emails from young women and young men who have had problems with self-harming. So that shows what you can do with comedy. I learnt about World War I through that beautiful scene at the end of Blackadder. I’m just an average man who gets wound up by stuff, whether it’s gambling adverts in the middle of football games or articles constantly attacking millennials.
Do you think you’re turning into a Victor Meldrew, railing against things the whole time?
There’s the fascinating thing in that you can lose all faith with the world and then you’re reminded that we as human beings are magnificent. The key thing is trying to mix the wonder of the world with the horror and making sure the wonder comes out on top. You don’t want to be that guy who’s just moaning.
You can lose all faith with the world, then you’re reminded that we human beings are magnificent
You had a very starry line-up last year. Who do you have this time?
We’ve got a lady who interviewed ex-members of Isis when Mosul was liberated. And we’ve got Louis Theroux. I did Jonathan Ross with Stormzy and I tapped him up so hopefully he’s coming on. He’s a wonderful bloke. I didn’t realise how selfless he was: an amazing artist in his own right and the platforms he’s given other people is extraordinary. For a 25-year-old guy! When I was 25 I was very selfish so it’s fascinating to see someone so talented being so giving.
How do you keep your ego in check when you outdo Frank Sinatra with your run at the Royal Albert Hall?
By spending time with my family…
Who have no respect for you whatsoever?
Absolutely! I’m just Russ. Stand-up is so beautiful and so brilliant but it’s all just memories. It was a brilliant night out and it just dissipates.
Is political comedy becoming harder because it’s all so mad anyway?
I think if you do gags about Donald Trump having small hands or being orange, that’s incredibly lazy and I think audiences are tired of that. But if you get into the nitty-gritty of what he says or what Theresa May says or what Jacob Rees-Mogg has said, that’s the fascinating thing. The things they do rather than just, ‘Ooh, look at the way she dances!’
Look at Trump talking about the caravan when there was a mass shooting in a synagogue and all he can say is, ‘There’s thousands of people and they’re walking…’ He even claimed they were from the Middle East. They come from Guatemala! I don’t want to live in a world where it’s about whether politicians can dance. And I don’t want Olly Murs in charge of the country because he can dance. Boris Johnson and Trump are very similar in that they came up through TV, Johnson through Have I Got News For You. He’s the first panel show politician. I was on Mock The Week around the same time…
It could have been you!
It could have been me! You look at politicians the world over and think, ‘How are these the only options?’ The real power now comes from people like Stormzy, writers and comedians. That’s why it’s important to talk about things that matter more than how much you hate going to Ikea.
■ The Russell Howard Hour returns on Sky 1 tonight at 10pm. Tickets for the Respite tour are on russell-howard.co.uk