Venue: Wembley Arena
Following a twitter onslaught of support, and the overwhelming replies to Howard’s signature question, “What’s the best thing to do in e.g. London that no one knows about”, he is moving to the global stage. Following his last stand up tour in 2011 and his Good News show which saw a peak of 5 million views and 8 successful seasons, expectations were high as he reached the Wembley stage.
Since the start of his career Howard’s material has always spoken to the younger generations, his variety of crude jokes mixed with political satire has taken the edge off issues which do not feature in the centre stage of popular culture. His show opened with some light relief comedy, commenting on the various toilet techniques the prudish British population resorts to in their endless pursuit to avoid social awkwardness. He covered the generic comment on the way girls skip to the toilets hand in hand while their male counterparts cling to their masculine independence. As the show progressed, however, more political topics began to emerge. His recent brush with the EDL has clearly left Howard shaken, after making a joke on his Good News show regarding Blackburn protests he faced internet threats and protests. In a surprisingly out of character moment he spoke openly and frankly about the way it has impacted his life and condemned the cowardice people employ on the internet.
With the tone set for controversy, he went on to address the opposition to same sex marriage, and appealed to Wembley for a little reflection on the hostility surrounding it. This bizarre combination of pathos and crudeness made for a surreal experience. While his material was thought provoking and at times emotive, an adjustment had to be made by the audience fairly early on in the show.
His grand finale attested to the fact that, despite being one of the country’s most successful comedians, Howard has retained a surprising amount of humility. He told the story of a young boy he had visited in hospital, a fan of his Good News show, and how he had spent time getting to know him and his family. When the diagnosis became bleak, Howard was involved in funeral arrangements, which included a request for him to appear in a six foot, fluorescent pink, phallic costume which had featured in one of his shows. Apart from this brief moment, it seemed that comedy had taken a back seat in the show, but it soon became apparent that there was a reason Howard had saved this story for his biggest audience.
He revealed there had been a sudden and drastic improvement in the boy’s health, so much so that he was now out of hospital. In the climax of the show, the boy came out from backstage wearing the ridiculous costume. Despite the uncharacteristic serious tone which had hung over the show, it was impossible to criticise this moment, and the spontaneous standing ovation he received ended the show on a high that comedy could not have achieved. An unfamiliar choice of material for Russell Howard, but one which was hugely popular.