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Letters from London
Funny Boy
By Shane Clarke
London Correspondent
Russell Kane is "Crazy in Love" with Let's Dance for Comic Relief

I like to think of myself as a bit of a connoisseur when it comes to stand-up comedy. It has been a passion of mine for many years.

As a kid in the seventies I used to listen to bootleg tapes of comedians like Tony Palmer, Roy “Chubby” Brown, and Billy Connolly. I used to watch Dave Allen and Bernard Manning on television. It was a magical time for me, and I have to admit to getting a little rebellious thrill from listening to people like messrs Brown and Manning effing and blinding and telling their crude jokes about their wives and mothers-in-law.

They were lewd, sexist, racist, xenophobic, and as far from politically correct as you can get without burning crosses on your Jamaican neighbour’s lawn. But they were all we had at the time; their vulgar humour was all we knew, and we laughed until our sides ached.

Throughout the eighties and nineties the so-called “alternative” comedians like Ben Elton and Jo Brand, and later Lee Evans and Jack Dee, established themselves and became the dominant force in stand-up. They condemned the old guard to the past, where they belonged, and they taught us that you don’t have to insult or belittle people to be funny (Frankie Boyle excepted), and that you could find humour anywhere – it was all around us. All you had to do was look.

Jumping forward to the present day, and we seem to be in a golden age of stand-up. There are a plethora of excellent comedians out there - Lee Nelson, John Bishop, and Dara O’Briain, to name but a few. And then we have Russell Kane.

I first saw Russell on a television program called Russell Howard’s Good News. He was a guest comedian one week, and I have to admit, I was a little unsure about him at first. Watching his set, I thought, ‘slightly odd; some dad issues.’

As time went on and I saw more of him, I realised I was watching a fledgling star finding his feet in a notoriously difficult profession. He grew in confidence, polished his performance and became slicker in his delivery, and then I thought, ‘My God, this kid’s good!’

This opinion was later vindicated by his winning the Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award, formerly the Perrier. This is indisputably the most prestigious prize in comedy, and boasts such previous winners as Rich Hall, Al Murray, and King of Stand-up, Lee Evans.

This spindly, slightly camp ball of energy had arrived, and with his Essex accent and endearing vulnerability he was set to conquer the world of comedy and emerge head and shoulders above a pool of talent arguably stronger than ever before. For me, that moment came with his memorable performance on the One Night Stand program on satellite TV channel, Dave. In this series, comedians go back to their home towns and put on a one-night-only show, with a little segment at the beginning where they show us around the place they grew up. Some played this part straight, showing us around significant places and introducing us to friends and family. Others, like Russell, played it for laughs, and his was hilarious, playing on all the Essex stereotypes (and there are many), but with a kind of fondness not seen so much these days.

Needless to say, the show itself was a triumph, leaving every self-respecting comedy fan drooling in anticipation for the live DVD that must surely come. Git that he is, he made us wait before finally releasing it on 7th November.

I took delivery of my copy this morning. I was like a kid on Christmas morning, I was so excited.

I made myself a coffee and settled down to watch it, though not before Tweeting to Russell that he could expect fire and brimstone should I not be entirely satisfied. Finally, I pressed play, and waited.

The show is called Smokescreens and Castles (he does explain why, I promise) and for the most part focuses on his growing up on a council estate in Essex and his relationship with his father, a stereotypical Essex “geezer”, the idea of which he mimics with hilarious accuracy. He enthrals us with tales of his father being the first in the street to buy his council house, of his first car, teaching his mom how to use a laptop, and why you should run for your life if a cockney ever starts talking quietly to you. But underneath all this foul-mouthed, sometimes crude, always funny madness is a little boy desperate for his father’s love and approval and feeling that he never has either.

This is where the young Mr Kane really elevates himself above his peers; for it is here, my friends, that Russell connects with his audience on an emotional level. The ability to do this is the difference between good comedians and great ones, and Russell shows his greatness here, because while you’re laughing so hard that it hurts at the tales of his right-wing father, there’s a single thought running through the back of your mind, and that is, ‘This guy really loves his dad,’ and I mean right down to the bone adoration. It emanates from every pore of the man, shining through the good-humoured mocking and sometimes cringe-worthy honesty like a beacon calling out for just a simple hug from his dad which never comes.

Russell openly admits that his comedy is a form of therapy, which in these times of emotional detachment is a refreshing change. It actually makes you feel privileged to share it with him, and journey with him through his comedic catharsis right to the end of the show, at which point I defy anyone not to have a tear in their eye.

A genuine star has risen, gentle reader. If Lee Evans is the King of stand-up, then Russell Kane is the Crown Prince. Buy his DVD or spend the rest of your life wondering why his father never hit him and what the only thing to bring a tear to the big man’s eye was.

Russell Kane – Smokescreens and Castles Live is available from Amazon.co.uk for £12.93.



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Shane Clarke serves as London Correspondent for The Seoul Times. He has been involved in humanitarian work for numerous years. He’s also a freelance management consultant. Having completed an honors degree in Law at Wolverhampton University, he then moved on to an MBA at Warwick Business School. He’s heavily involved in the fight against international parental child abduction to Japan.

 

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