More Wombling than Orinoco flow

Ross Noble | Porter Comedy Club, Bath
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The Independent Culture

Rambling comes naturally to Ross Noble. Nominated for a Perrier Award in 1999 when he was just 22, this off-the-cuff Geordie lad is now affably slouching around the circuit on his first full UK and Ireland tour - which actually extends to Paris in March.

Rambling comes naturally to Ross Noble. Nominated for a Perrier Award in 1999 when he was just 22, this off-the-cuff Geordie lad is now affably slouching around the circuit on his first full UK and Ireland tour - which actually extends to Paris in March.

That geographical tangent certainly tallies with his fondness for heading off on quirky mental detours (as well as making one suspect he might ultimately like to be compared to the Channel-hopping master-witterer, Eddie Izzard). Noble's new solo show - which I caught up with in Bath at the snug Porter Comedy Club - is awash with fanciful digressions. One minute, he's politely offering to hang up a female punter's beer-soaked scarf. The next, he's merrily fantasising about hoards of students suckling on knitted udders. Then somehow that veers off into a surreal proposal for a tramps' game show called That's My Trolley plus a burst of song about the Wombles making weaponry out of stuff that ordinary, everyday folks leave behind. The ditty was, by the by, loosely linked to the Porter's cellarage looking like a candlelit burrow-going-on-medieval torture chamber and to a barrage of bemusingly trivial heckles being hurled from an alcove next to the stage which, as Noble wryly observed, should have featured a portcullis.

Noble's imagination is, at best, as loopy as his mass of curly black hair. While his demeanour is so laid-back he's not so much a stand-up as a lean-to, his brain can be entertainingly febrile. He is, in fact, oddly reminiscent of Wimbledon Common's Orinoco: simultaneously shambolic and hyperactive.

His act offers an engaging element of danger as well, relying heavily on the quick-witted improvisational skills that have made him so impressive as a newcomer on Radio 4's Just A Minute. He positively thrives on comments from the crowd, offering back-chat that contrives to be both lightly sarcastic and easy-going. A sudden burst of drunken yelling from the street outside also inspired a fine ironic quip about his big surprise finale, featuring a no-expense-spared Welsh male voice choir.

However, in the course of his one-and-a-half hour gig, Noble sometimes palpably struggles to forge constant laughs out of thin air. There are slack patches where he merely milks jokes and plays the hip populist card, trying to turn home-grown renditions of hit singles and TV theme tunes into a running gag. Though he never seems phased, Noble's yet to hit the perfect balance between thinking on his feet and sitting down and writing some really storming material - and he can't afford to rest on the laurels he earned two years ago.

Still, the show offers enough high points to keep you happy. Particularly memorable is his terrifically cheeky vision of emergency ward patients with unprintable commodities stuck in their orifices, having a "chat" that's more like a concert of whistling bottles. His routine about soft blokes wearing extra clothes to avoid Saturday night punch-ups is also a charming piece of clowning, as a bravura show of raised fists leads to an endless mimed striptease, right down to mummy's undies. Worth the wait.

Tour details: 09068 501201 (calls cost 60p per minute)

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