Russell Kane talks 'Brits Abroad' ahead of Dubai Opera gig
The effusive comedian tells us why UK expat crowds love jokes about themselves
Cast your mind back through the mists of time to an ancient realm we once called 2006. Stream Avril Lavigne’s My Happy Ending and dig out your old Samsung X480 to really set the mood if you so desire. It was a time of promise.
Medical drama House dominated the ratings, slider style burgers had become a ‘thing’ and Twitter’s naissance dictated its evolution into a quagmire of human misery remained some way off. What an era in which to be alive! One Monday in March a little-known mop-topped local London comedian took to the West End Trafalgar Studios’ recently opened secondary theatre space and began his burgeoning set. Kicking off around 10pm on a weeknight, the crowd may have been sparser than a student’s fridge and as meek as the overpriced watery drinks the establishment served (by this writer), though from the way the performer owned the room, you’d think he was playing to a packed Wembley Stadium. The liveliness Russell Kane displayed on that admittedly ill-conceived booking had to be witnessed to be believed and it appears, over the subsequent 15-year rise to fame and fortune, this maximum effort work ethic has never altered.
“I know I don’t have a normal energy level,” Kane told us over the phone from the English capital this week. “I don’t have to be the funniest but I have to be the most energetic. That’s my thing.”
Returning to the UAE next week for the first time since 2017, the 45-year-old is known for a variety of television projects in the UK including BBC’s Live At The Apollo, panel show Mock The Week and jungle reality programme accompaniment I’m A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here Now! to name a few. His Dubai Opera appointment on September 29 comes hot on the heels of a few appearances around Greece earlier in the month, again illustrating his boundless desire to entertain despite travel being more difficult in the current climate.
“I was obviously a lazy twit throughout puberty, but once I got over that I redid my A-Levels and smashed everything else I’ve ever touched,” Kane said about the source of his enthusiasm. “The difference now is my stamina is definitely better. Back on the circuit I was doing 15 to 20 minute sets. In Cyprus I went on stage at 8pm and came off at 9.30pm without an interval.
“Don’t worry I won’t be doing that in Dubai. The reality is it’s too much. But I would always rather go straight through in one section. For my style of performance a single detonation is more effective. But the structure of the business means very often I have to have an interval.”
As became apparent from our conversation even the global pandemic didn’t dent the stand-up’s schedule too drastically. A confessed ‘workaholic jester’ Kane observed the British March to June 2020 lockdown, though used the time to plot ways to ensure time would not be wasted in such an unfruitful manner again.
“The first day we were let out I was on stage at a socially-distanced outdoor gig,” he said. “I was doing anything – literally just people in a field with no equipment. Then we were allowed socially-distanced shows inside and that carried on until all the way up to December 5th when we were locked in again. I moved onto Zoom and tailored my act for corporate shows, to stay in the gym as it were and stay sharp, and then from July we were allowed to do whatever we wanted. I haven’t really stopped that much.”
The reason for a September visit to The Aegean’s jewel? When it looked as if venues in England would never reopen some time ago, Kane made plans to hold court in warm countries in anticipation at least some of the restrictions on travellers would be lifted and the shows could be moved outside if required. Plus it’s always nice to call in to amuse the ‘Brits Abroad’ crowd, right?
“The main difference performing in Cyprus, as it is in Dubai, is the audience is more British than back home! People turn up cuddling the Union Jack,” Kane said. “That’s the curious thing about being in somewhere like Dubai. People want to hear jokes about themselves more than when they’re on home soil. There’s something consoling and affirming to hear yourself or your being culture mocked and interrogated. It’s paradoxical. I don’t know if it’s a British thing but we like to have the p*** taken out of us. It’s like a mark of confidence.”
The Greek island hopping went as expected, Kane told us, yet on the mainland where fewer expats live turned out to be a more surprising date.
“It was in Athens so the audience was 90 per cent Greek. It was all people who spoke English as a second language and 200 people showed up saying ‘let’s gamble on someone we’ve never heard before’. You get that in some cultures. They see ‘English comedian’ and think I must be all right. Whereas in Cyprus it’s just Terry, Gary and Darren on a night out.”
Acknowledging there could be a few repeat audience members from his last UAE tour, Kane explained this set will be more observational than the mainly cross-culture comparisons he made four years ago.
“Believe it or not there is a lot of comedy I got from 2020. When it comes to masks, social distancing, Covid dating and things like that, it’s all stuff we can relate to.” Combined with Kane’s trademark effervescence, we’re sure we will.
Which comedians do you watch?
I don’t watch comedy ever. I don’t suppose Gordon Ramsay rushes home to watch Jamie Oliver. I watch a drama or a documentary or read a book. I have a successful Radio 4 series right now called Evil Genius. That didn’t come about because I was watching 8 Out Of 10 Cats. It’s because I was watching a news update about bringing down Harvey Weinstein and thought a show about reassessing cultural figures in today’s light would be good. I bring my comedy from the serious. The only stand-ups I watch are very new ones. I’m quite involved in breaking new talent. I won’t name drop, but it’s an area where I’ve been quite successful. It’s the part of comedy I really enjoy.
What is one ambition you have yet to fulfil?
I’ve never written a six-part scripted comedy or comedy drama and got it on telly. I’ve come close so many times. I have appeared in a lot of things, but that’s what I’d love to do. There are plenty of stories I’d like to tell.
Russell Kane Live is a Dubai Opera & GME Events show and tickets are available from dubaiopera.ae, Platinum List and all UAE Virgin Megastores priced from Dh150.
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