Claiming that attacks from detractors only fuel his comic creativity, energetic stand-up star Russell Kane is back with a new tour and mad-cap BBC Three series.
He spoke to Jay Richardson about the ups and downs of his public persona, fatherhood, and his on-stage retort to Stewart Lee.
Russell Kane takes personal attacks pretty well, in that he absorbs them, endlessly obsesses over them and ultimately turns them into febrile comedy.
His stand-up is characterised by the ongoing meta-commentary he layers atop his routines, airing the snide voices in his head, anticipating the jibes of his perceived critics with pre-emptive, self-aware attempts to get his jabs in first.
A clever, chippy, puckish wit from Essex, he eventually turned his love/hate relationship with his bigoted, bruiser of a father into his 2010 Edinburgh Comedy Award-winning show Smokescreens and Castles.
Like a kung-fu strike from Bruce Lee
When Stewart Lee – “or the character of Stewart Lee we should say” – Kane deadpans, sneered on stage at this “dead dad” show triumph and declared that he’d never attend a Kane gig because he knew it would be s**t thanks to the blond streak in his hair, the younger comic professes to have taken it as a “compliment”.
“Getting done by Stewart Lee was like getting a kung fu strike from Bruce Lee, something any white belt dreams of,” he says.
Still, he wrote a counter-routine. A satirical swipe at Lee in the style of his sardonic aggressor.
“But I can only do it at [shows] like Old Rope and at the Edinburgh Fringe,” Kane sighs. “I dreamed of it being on Live at the Apollo and him choking on his houmous and celery.”
Kane has tended to call his shows after criticisms aimed at him. And Right Man, Wrong Age is no exception.
Long seen as synonymous with BBC Three’s “yoof” image after hosting shows like Live At The Electric and his brief dalliances with glamour models between relationships, he’s increasingly become the subject of cracks about his real age and appearance from the press and other comics.
“Whether you’re black, white, with spiky hair, flat hair, lesbian, straight, you can be whoever you want to be on stage as long as you’re funny,” he states.
“That’s one of the things I love about comedy. But it turns out, other comedians will very quickly judge you for your surface appearance rather than the content of your character, which is amazing.”
“I’m not bullied now I’m successful”
He maintains that a collagen imbalance makes him look younger than he is. And that he’s never actually lied about his age.
“I couldn’t bring myself to outright fib but I certainly had fun misleading people,” he explains. “The reason for this big show is my biggest birthday ever. I’m 40, I don’t know why everyone’s so interested.”
He adds: “I only know one way to deal with bullies. When people make fun of you and gang up as a group, that’s bullying. And I’m not bullied now I’m successful.
“When people started taking the piss out of me, no-one was more delighted than me because that’s when my comedy gland pumps twice the speed. Bang! A two hour show, all about age. Bring it!”
A self-declared “shape-shifting chameleon and complete whore” for whatever audience is in front of him, Kane had only belatedly realised that he was a “pretending to be 17 twat”.
Answering his front door, a window cleaner asked the spray-tanned homeowner if his parents were in. The compliment quickly curdled and he promptly ditched the eyeline and skinny jeans.
“My daughter arrived like a comedian’s notebook”
He’s since found some sharp suits with “spring-loaded crotches” that still permit him to perform his “unnecessarily energetic act”.
And his new daughter arrived like “a comedian’s notebook rather than a child coming out to be honest, like an hour of material had just flown out of Lindsey”. But he’s still had to shift the emphasis of Right Man, Wrong Age from the importance of a 40-year-old with a wife and child acting age appropriate, to more universal observations on the human condition, the idea that at every age, each of us are yearning to be younger or older.
Naturally, he’d thought that his relationship with BBC Three had ended when it was announced that the channel was moving online. But the channel asked him to front the international survival series Stupid Man, Smart Phone, in which he endures extreme conditions with only his mobile phone and social media celebrities to help him.
Fleeing Polish border guards with German Shepherds, gutting rabbits in Costa Rica and “pissing blood out of my nostrils” in the Moroccan desert, the pain and intensity was as nothing though, compared to the soreness and exhaustion that he’s experienced training to synchronise swim for Sport Relief.
Competing against the singer Will Young, the simultaneous treading of water and flamboyant dancing has led to him “sleeping 12 hours, the same length of time as the baby”.
Meanwhile, he’s contemplating writing his second novel, potentially a sweeping narrative on the UK’s white working-class.
Potential sitcom where he plays his father
However, as a comic writing literature he’s wary of being dismissed. Or misunderstood by those critics who grumbled that his first published effort, The Humorist, wasn’t funny.
“I’m a bit nervous about pouring my soul into a real tome,” he admits.
Looming larger on the horizon is a potential sitcom where he writes and plays his hulking father. Portraying the gangster title character in his 2014 play, The Closure of Craig Solly, had afforded the wiry comic the confidence that he could fully inhabit his bull-necked and menacing old man.
“The missing beat for me was watching Sexy Beast with Ben Kingsley and realising that with the right director, a tiny Gandhi could be scary as f***.
“Playing Dave might be the ultimate Freudian closure for me.”
Russell Kane is on tour. Find shows near you