Classic Interview: Russell Howard

Russell Howard

Update 9/4/14: 

Russell Howard has now added a major autumn extension to the UK leg of his 2014 Wonderbox world tour.  This tour has already seen almost 200,000 fans book to see RUSSELL in the UK, including four sold-out nights at London’s Royal Albert Hall (next week), before embarking on sold-out runs in Australia, New Zealand and the USA from May.  The new dates will make available a further 85,000 tickets at arenas in cities including: London, Birmingham, Manchester, Nottingham, Liverpool, Cardiff and Sheffield.

 Tickets for the December 2014 shows are on pre-sale from today, with information available through www.russell-howard.co.uk, and go on general sale from 9am on April 11.

 

DECEMBER EXTENSION DATES:

14-Dec-14

London

O2

15-Dec-14

Nottingham

Capital FM

16-Dec-14

Newcastle

Metro Radio Arena

17-Dec-14

Liverpool

ACC Liverpool

18-Dec-14

Cardiff

Motorpoint Arena

19-Dec-14

Sheffield

Motorpoint Arena

20-Dec-14

Manchester

MEN Arena

21-Dec-14

Birmingham

The LG

 

One day your children will say to you "what's a DVD?". You can simply plug their hologooglegizmo into this article and give them the answer. Back in 2009 comedy DVDs were selling by the truckload. People still actually bought things in shops and slid them into machines. While Michael McIntyre, Lee Evans and Peter Kay were the big sellers Russell Howard was comedy's rising star. I interviewed him for The Times in Brighton in sunny June where he was shooting his live DVD for a Christmas release. Five years on Howard is very much in the premier league, taking his feelgood banter around the globe. He is currently on his Wonderbox World Tour and is at the Royal Albert Hall from April 14 - 17. Buy tickets here.

 

It is a lovely hot day in June but Russell Howard has an issue. The boyishly cheeky star of Mock the Week is filming his live DVD,Dingledodies, at the Brighton Dome and one thing is on his mind: why does he have to put on foundation? “I always find it funny that you have to wear make-up otherwise you shine on screen. I can’t imagine anyone writing a letter of complaint: ‘My enjoyment was really ruined because Russell had a shiny face’.”

Actually he is also thinking about Christmas. Five months later and his show has just been released, jostling for position in the most competitive of markets. Almost every comedian on television — and a few who are not — has product for sale. According to the Official Charts Company and Worldpanel Entertainment, 77 per cent of comedy titles are sold between October and December.

The reason for this flood of funnies is simple. Comedy DVDs — particularly live stand-up shows — are enjoying a phenomenal boom. The Official Charts Company confirms that sales of live titles are rocketing. In 2006 the bestselling comedy title, Little Britain Live, sold more than 330,000 copies. In 2008 Lee Evans Live at the O2topped a million.

Millions of DVDs are selling and, to put it crudely, there are millions to be made. I spoke to a number of comedians who were all reluctant to confirm what percentage they receive, but one source suggested a royalty is usually around 7 per cent. If a DVD retails for £20 and sells a million copies that’s £1.4 million pounds. Production costs and an advance night might have to be covered, but the star of a top-selling DVD could trouser a seven-figure sum. Not bad for a day’s work in Brighton.

But Howard is up against a tough field. There is a new live DVD from the stand-up du jour Michael McIntyre, whose first disc last year became the fastest-selling comedy debut. And then there are other, more established, acts jostling for position. Billy Connolly, who has two DVDs in the all-time Top Ten (Peter Kay hogs the top two placings), has his umpteenth DVD out, as does the American icon Chris Rock.

Al Murray’s Pub Landlord also has his Beautiful British Tour Live at the O2 on the starting blocks, capturing the bigoted bar steward in barnstormingly vulgar form. In person though, Murray takes a rather more dignified approach: “I don’t know about advances and royalties, I’m a bit airy-fairy. They round things off nicely is the best way of putting it.”

Murray is more forthcoming in explaining this spike: “My sales shot up significantly last year. More people are going to shows and they want to buy the show they’ve seen.” DVDs — and before that chunky VHS versions — have always been important to comedy, though. Richard Pryor’s live shows were passed around from fan to fan when I was younger and Russell Howard says it was seeing a Lee Evans VHS that got him into writing comedy in the first place: “To me, aged 14, there was nothing more wonderful than salivating over the telly because I’d never been to live gigs.” Comedy has now gone mainstream so the numbers are bigger.

Like numerous performers, Murray puts increased business down to the increased coverage of comedy on television. Not just panel games such as Mock the Week, but more particularly Michael McIntyre’s Roadshow and before that Live at the Apollo, which successfully put unadulterated stand-up onscreen.

“Stand-up is being seen as more than a three-minute filler in a show now,” Murray continues. “I always thought comedy was badly served by being reduced to a three-minute spot. I could name 20 comics who, if you watched them for 40 minutes you’d realise stand-up is a far stronger art form than just telling jokes, which is what it is often boiled down to.”

Some might say that all that Jimmy Carr does is tell jokes (“The Great Wall of China. Largest wall in the world. Not one cashpoint.”) but judging by his DVD sales there are plenty of fans who are hoping to get his slick, non-PC shtick in their stocking. “My sales have always been consistently high,” Carr says. He is not worried about increased competition: “It is a huge market now, but the pie is bigger, so there is more for everyone.”

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