Ross Noble was naturally wary on the Irish horror flick, Stitches, his first feature film. And then he remembered he was a comedian. “And I just had a laugh then,” he tells Paul Byrne.
Just like my dear old mum, Ross Noble talks almost entirely in footnotes.
Whatever the starting point may be, chances are, it will have little or no relationship to the end point. Or any of the 30 or so points made along the way in search of that ever-elusive full-stop.
It makes for an interesting conversation, occasionally, and one with a thousand possibilities. Talking with Noble is akin to a word association game after about six cups of espresso. The trouble arises when you go to transcribe the conversation.
That’s when a sentence… Well, that depends on the kind of sentence… I had a friend who went to jail and said it was actually rather relaxing… Not Radox bath relaxing, I don’t think; you’d have to keep away from getting naked too often in prison; reaching for the soap and all that… Do you remember that American sitcom called Soap? That was great. Billy Crystal started out on that. He does gay very, very well…
See what I mean?
The reason I’m sitting down for this rapid-fire tete-a-tete with Noble is the low-budget Irish horror comedy Stitches. Writer/director Conor McMahon (who made quite an impression with his 2004 feature debut, Dead Meat) once again has some fun sending up whilst also embracing the horror genre. A genre that, ever since Romero and Raimi got their hands on it, has usually set out to have the audience constantly unsure whether to laugh or cry out in terror.
In Stitches, Noble is perfectly cast as a bitter clown who ends up skewered through the eye and very dead whilst trying to entertain an increasingly aggressive young birthday party gang. Jump to 10 years later, and the now teenage birthday boy Tom (Tommy Knight) is finally ready for a house party once again. As bad luck would have it, Richard ‘Stitches’ Grindle (Noble) decides it’s also time for revenge, and before you can say I Know What You Did Last Birthday Party, he’s disposing of teens in cruel and unusual ways. As the blood and guts start flying, so too, of course, do the puns. And the winks to camera.
“Well, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?” says Noble. “You’re kind of in on the joke with the audience, and the idea is to come up with something a little more ridiculous each time. To surpass what has gone before, not just in your own movie but every other horror movie where the boogeyman comes to wreak havoc amongst a bunch of horny teens.”
Having established himself as one of the UK’s leading stand-up comedians after a winning streak at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe around the turn of the century, Noble’s sell-out tours and regular TV and radio appearances meant that he’s long been wooed by filmmakers. Finally though, someone made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Playing a psycho killer clown.
Think The Great Sarcasmo – pulling hats out of rabbits.
“I just knew who this guy was,” smiles Noble. “I could relate to him. Early on, I actually spent some time in the circus, and the tears of a clown are something that I am not at all averse to either. I’m also a big fan of horror, and how it can be this twisted pantomime.
“It was really Conor’s script that got me though. I like an imaginative killing as much as the next sicko, and Conor’s script just kept on making me laugh. You’re appalled, and yet, you’re delighted at the same time. It’s not like he kills anyone you actually care about. These are obnoxious teenagers. Having a loud house party whilst someone’s parents are away. Of course they deserve to die slow, horrible deaths.”
Talking of slow, horrible deaths, Irish films have always found it hard to attract Irish cinemagoers – largely because, on the whole, Irish films suck. It’s unlikely that Stitches will buck that particular trend, being a solid if not quite remarkable slice of low-budget horror. So, does a multi-millionaire, jetsetting stand-up comedian like Ross Noble actually care about such piffling pedantics as box-office?
“Do you know what, not really,” answers the Billy The Fish lookalike. “Of course I hope that Stitches does well, and that Conor and everyone else involved can walk away with a hit on their CV, but all I really cared about, to be honest, is that I did a good job. And that I had some fun. And I scored on both fronts. Well, definitely on the latter front. It’s not for me to say whether or not I did a good job.
“Do you think I did a good job?”
I do. Still not enough to lift Stitches above the ordinary though. Perhaps the great Jerry Sadowitz will find it moving. Given that the lead character shares quite a bit of Sadowitz’s comic and magic skills, along with his utter contempt for mankind.
“Do you know what, I never thought of Jerry Sadowitz,” nods Noble. “He is pretty much Stitches, isn’t he? Only Jerry is incredibly funny. And an amazing magician. But all the hatred stuff, he’s got that in spades…”
There’s little or no hatred in Ross Noble’s comedy, just a heavy dose of sunny surrealism. An early diagnosis of dyslexia scuppered any academia plans, Noble making his stand-up debut at his local comedy club in Northumberland at the age of 15. It was the Time Out award in 2000 for his Edinburgh Fringe Festival show Chickenmaster that finally launched Noble, and now, 11 tours later, he’s touring his Mindbender around the world, having hit Dublin’s Olympia on September 28th. For those of you unlucky enough to catch the man live, there are currently 7 live DVDs out there, the eight, Nonsensory Overload, due out in November.
Given just how regularly Noble tours, and the amount of TV and radio he also does, how come the man went from the number 10 spot on the 2007 poll for Channel 4’s 100 Greatest Stand-Ups to 11th place in 2010? Laziness? Or perhaps happiness, given that Noble is now a blissfully-married father to a young girl, Elfie?
“I think it might be a combination of both, actually,” he says. “I’m sure if I’d worked that little bit harder between 2007 and 2010, I would have maintained my Top 10 status. I may have even gone up a notch or two, but, plainly, I just wasn’t quite as funny in 2010 as I was in 2007. Which is worrying. I blame the wife and kid though – before they came along, I just ate, drank and slept comedy. Now, with all their cuteness and love, I’m distracted, and can go a good hour without saying something surreal or wacky.
“Naturally, should this continue, I will walk away from my family and go back to living alone, motorbiking home from every gig for another quiet night in with my favourite chicken dish. Night after night after night. Yeah, that sounds like a plan…”
Stiches hits Irish cinemas on October 26th