What does a jar of glow worms dangling on a fishing line have to do with a ghostly-white creature scaring children at a public pool? How about riding a pig past a synagogue and hypnotising British PM David Cameron with a snake-charming flute?
Nothing, really, except that they all took place at Her Majesty’s Theatre on Thursday, where Ross Noble took the audience on mad flights of fancy with his fevered imagination.
In Brain Dump, Noble’s latest show at the 2016 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the stage is littered with big, inflatable light bulbs. The décor and title seemed to suggest Noble was going to dump all of his ideas on the stage in a big pile—he had plenty of things in his head and they were all coming out at once.
This was to be expected from one of the great free associators of our time. Noble has built a career in his 20+ years of stand-up comedy blurring the lines between prepared material and genuine improvisation. It was less expected, though, that he would bring a few personal anecdotes to the act, while injecting some political comedy into the mix.
Noble said in a 2012 interview that he was shifting away from his pop culture-laden, absurd brand of comedy. Instead of being ‘basically like an alien on earth’, he said, he was tending to ‘talk about real things’. This shift probably came with marriage, kids and responsibility. Thankfully, this did nothing to harm his signature stream-of-consciousness monologues—in fact it probably strengthened them.
The 39 year old Northumberland comic came out after an epic countdown set to Trent Reznor and Atticus Ross’s rendition of ‘Hall of the Mountain King’. Beginning with a long riff on hook turns in Melbourne, he moved about the stage in that familiar box step pace while he told us about a vasectomy and trying to ‘take care of your testicles’, what it’s like when he takes off his shirt to swim at the pool and the rage he feels when he sees another kindergartener throw sand in his daughter’s face. All these stories were often told in parts with long tangents in between, interspersed with fantastic crowd work, demonstrating his knack for noticing something in the crowd and getting about 10 minutes of material out of it.
More politically-minded riffs were some of the strongest material in the show. Noble satirised cultural prejudice in a bit about sneaky terrorists infiltrating wombs via ejaculation, becoming secret terrorist babies and hiding their identities until the day of their attack.
As a political comic, Noble differs from the sarcastic legends of the genre like Bill Hicks and Stewart Lee, but Noble is able to achieve a free reign over his subjects, douse them in metaphor and set them alight in fictional narratives. He responded to his own weighty material with a few self-conscious jokes about what the audience might expect of him, adopting a faux-conservative tone and criticising himself for going too far.
Brain Dump shows a legendary comic still at the height of his powers. Ross Noble’s monologues are a joy to watch and his personal anecdotes and political commentary are every bit as entertaining as his pop culture referencing. He even left us with a bit of life advice, reflecting true, Noble-ian incoherency:
‘Never judge a person until you’ve ridden a pig past a synagogue.’