Ross Noble first did stand-up aged 15 and he's putting his improv skills to good use in comedy-horror Stitches. He tells Tom Seymour about acting versus comedy, dealing with hecklers and clocking up stage time...
As a stand-up, how did you deal with being directed in the film?
I thought a film would be really restrictive. With stand-up you get one shot at it; you make a decision and say something and then you have to live with it; it affects the rest of the show. In a film you know where it’s going, so rather than do 10 takes and feel like you have to do the same thing again and again, you have the chance to have another go and try things differently every time. That’s actually very liberating.
Did your stand-up experience help you to improvise as an actor?
I think it did. You have to hit certain beats in a scene, but it meant I was able to think about how I could make the most out of every shot in the film. I would think about how my fingers were moving, how my body was moving, what my face was doing, and that’s as important as delivering the lines.
How did you learn to deal with hecklers during routines?
Before I did stand-up I spent a fair amount of time busking and juggling and unicycling on the street. That’s almost like an amplified version of being on stage. If someone heckles you in the street, you don’t have a mic or a stage. If someone wants to punch you in the face or nick your props, they can. You learn very quickly in that environment, so when I got into comedy clubs I felt I could deal with drunken people trying to give you a hard time. I used to play gigs that were so rowdy you’d just screw up your plan and take on the room. You learn to back yourself, and it becomes fun.
Would you recommend stand-up as a career?
When I first started, it wasn’t a career and I didn’t go into it thinking it would be a career. I just wanted to earn enough money to pay my rent, and I thought it would be cool to do that by making people laugh. I’ve been doing this now almost every night for 21 years and if I was only performing to 20 people a night, I’d still be doing it.
But young comics can see it as a career these days, and it can actually make you a lot of money. It is a great career – but it’s also littered with people that never quite got there. You had the right to fail when I started, and most of the good stand-ups were a bit rubbish while they found their voice. I don’t think you can afford that now.
What’s your advice for a young stand-up?
Stage time. Doesn’t matter if you have a manager or an agent, and it doesn’t matter what stage you are on, just get on stage and spend as much time on there as you can. And the other thing is to enjoy it; even if you’re getting heckled by a thousand people, you have to learn to be in the moment. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.
Stitches is out now and Ross Noble is on tour.
For more articles, jobs and opportunities, visit the Performing Arts hub.