Wonky-eyed and from the Westcountry like me, Russell Howard is one of my favourite comedians, and not just for those reasons. I like his upbeat energy, positivity and common sense views, and he has a great variety of material in his routines, including crazy anecdotes about himself and his family, amusing observations about the weird and wonderful things he’s seen, and his reactions to people and events in the news.
I therefore took the opportunity to see him live at the London Palladium recently, and he was brilliant, unsurprisingly. So I thought I’d also do quick reviews of his DVDs and Netflix specials, just like I did for some other comedians whose shows I attended last year, as it’s always fun to watch them again. None of this is sponsored or gifted, and be aware that there is a bit of strong language and adult humour in some of the clips I’ve embedded. And with that, I hope you enjoy!
- Good News
- Stand-Up DVDs
- Netflix Specials
As well as his appearances on programmes like Mock The Week and Live At The Apollo, I particularly got into Russell’s comedy on his Good News show. It was very popular, running for 96 episodes over 10 series from 2009-2015, mainly on BBC Three until it was promoted to BBC Two for its final couple of series.
Every week he performed a stand-up routine about news stories and funny clips he had seen, with videos and photos to illustrate, alongside occasional sketches and songs, and interviews with mystery guests who had been in the news. Then each episode ended with Russell sharing an uplifting and heartwarming story, to remind us that there are good people in the world. There were also extended versions of the episodes called Good News Extra, which included a stand-up set by a guest comedian. And Fast Fuse by Kasabian was a great choice for the theme tune.
So I always enjoyed watching the show, as it was very funny and had a great variety of material. You can see most of the full episodes on Russell’s Youtube channel, which has playlists for Series 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 & 10, plus the stand-up acts from the extended episodes, and other playlists with shorter clips.
Incidentally, his channel also has lots of videos from The Russell Howard Hour, a similar show that he’s been making for Sky since leaving the BBC. That’s run for 6 series so far, but I never got into it as much as Good News, as I found there were segments and guests that didn’t interest me. So instead I just watch some of the monologues and occasional guest interviews that he posts on Youtube, rather than the full episodes.
Likewise, I only saw some of the Home Time spin-off that he made in the first Covid lockdown, with each episode posted on Youtube the day after transmission on Sky, and for which he kindly donated his fee to NHS Charities Together & The Trussell Trust. My favourite guest in that series was Taskmaster host Greg Davies in the first episode.
But anyway, back to Good News…
Best Of Series 1 DVD
The only DVDs that have been released for Good News are compilations of the best moments from the first 2 series. It’s a shame they never released the full episodes, and no DVDs at all for the later series. But these are good to have nonetheless, because they’re very funny and have some nice bonus material.
The Best Of Series 1 DVD was released in November 2010. The main feature lasts for 1 hour 17 minutes, during which Russell talks about a myriad of topics, including politicians, a fat man who always gets in the back of news shots, amusing clips from BBC Breakfast, flooding, cavemen, micro pigs, unusual cakes, silly exam answers, a weird sex education video, sperm research, dumb criminals, police, Christianity, Christmas lights, funny place names, being voted as a weird crush in Heat magazine, and a variety of other weird and wonderful people who have made the news.
In amongst all of that, there’s also:
- A few song parodies, with a family planning musical number, a rude children’s song about insects, and a spoof rap.
- Some banter with the studio audience, as Russell asks for their ideas for impressing people in strange ways, talking to aliens and spending lots of money.
- A look at the mystery guests from the series, including a male pole dancer, a heavily tattooed woman, a guy in character from the London Dungeon, a lady from Transport For London’s Lost Property office, a man who lived without money for a year, and a couple of kite surfers who jumped Worthing Pier.
- His favourite good news story, from the very first episode, about a young man who helped to solve a rape case and generously gave the reward money to the victim.
The disc then has a few extra features as well:
- Audio Commentary – Here Russell is joined by his fellow writers Dan Atkinson, Steve Williams & Karl Minns. Russell notes that it’s their first time doing a DVD commentary, so they don’t really know what they’re doing, and it shows. There are occasional little anecdotes, insights and amusing moments, but overall they’re just having a laugh while they react to the show, and it’s not particularly exciting to listen to. So I’m not surprised they didn’t do a commentary for the second series.
- The unaired pilot, lasting 11 minutes, that was made for the BBC executives to decide whether to commission the series. So it’s rough around the edges, and it doesn’t have the theme music or title sequence, but it’s still Russell doing a nice job of topical stand-up in front of a studio audience. He asks them what they would do with their last day on Earth, meets a lady who posed for a nude calendar, mentions the story of a teenage father (with a legal clarification added by Russell for the DVD), and talks about sex education plans for school children.
- 12 minutes of sketches that were left on the cutting room floor, either because they didn’t work or they weren’t allowed to include them. Russell appears on screen to add context to each one, explaining why they weren’t included and sharing a few little memories about filming them, so it’s quite interesting.
- A 10-minute compilation of vlogs going behind the scenes, which had been posted online to accompany the series, including a studio tour, a chat about how doing the show differs from his usual stand-up gigs, a look at the filming of various sketches, and the answers to some viewers’ questions.
Best Of Series 2 DVD
The second compilation was released in September 2012, and this time the main feature lasts for an hour. Because the series was originally broadcast from March to May 2010, there’s a lot of talk about the upcoming General Election, including a bonus insert from the Good News office near the end, where Russell shares some jokes about the results coverage that came too late for inclusion in the series.
Meanwhile other topics include cider prices, British Airways strikes, the Duchess of Cornwall, Iceland’s volcanic ash cloud, David Beckham & the World Cup (with a football chant sketch), the Orbit Tower being planned for the Olympics (which I later abseiled off), condoms, teachers, Taiwan, leprechauns, jars of air, a rogue pheasant, a feisty raccoon, dogs with depression, a rabbit whisperer, a novice sailor, a Lottery winner, Scrabble and Cheryl Cole (with a song parody).
There’s also a selection of mystery guests, including an elderly wrestler, sword fighters, a freestyle footballer, a female darts player and a French ‘Spider-Man’ climber. And the adorably heartwarming story at the end is about a pet duck inspiring a disabled child to walk.
The DVD also contains half an hour of unbroadcast material, which is fun to look through. There’s around 20 minutes of jokes and sketches including a guy who claims he’s a Jedi, cardboard policemen, N-Dubz, papal condoms, strange Easter celebrations, teachers, a spray for women to attract men, bad book titles, who the audience want to be Prime Minister, and the world’s first full face transplant (with a sketch about a big bottom). Then there’s a 10-minute segment with radio DJ Tim Shaw as a mystery guest, telling Russell about spending 30 days living in a box to raise money for charity, and challenging people to find him.
So all in all, the two compilation DVDs are very funny, bringing back good memories of a great show, and it’s nice to have the extra unseen material as well.
Russell Howard Live
Russell’s first stand-up special on DVD is a 1 hour 10 minute show from the Bloomsbury Theatre, filmed during his Adventures tour. In amongst a variety of random, funny, fascinating and odd things, he talks about his childhood, his parents, his nan, his brother’s epilepsy, living with his mate, dirty magazines in the woods, using food in the bedroom, strange things he’s done for love, farting in Paris, witnessing a man who was saved from jumping off a building, bravely naughty kids, and his Dad’s Christmas prank.
He also has accurate and amusing thoughts about unnecessary hatred online and in general society, how we’re told what to complain about by the news, flooding, religion, intelligent design and stem cell research. None of which gets heavy or boring, as he finds the comedy in all of those areas. And he understands the importance of enjoyable and funny moments to lift you when you’re feeling low. It’s a theme he returns to in every show he does.
There are also a few nice interactions with the audience, including ladies wearing T-shirts with his face on, a man with a great laugh, swearing in front of someone’s parents, and a Q&A for the encore where he talks about his cat, bananas and his brother.
Apart from that, the DVD also includes a nice 23-minute tour diary, with short clips from various locations (including a water park, paintballing and a sex shop), plus snippets of audience questions and heckles from a few of the gigs. And Russell talks to you on the main menu as well, including additional comments after the first time it refreshes.
The strange title of this DVD refers to people who are wild spirits, funny and great company. The word dingledodies was created by American author Jack Kerouac in a quote from his 1957 novel On The Road:
“But then they danced down the street like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I’ve been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars…”
The menu of the DVD plays an instrumental extract from Club Foot by Kasabian, while Russell makes a few comments to get you to press Play (he doesn’t do that any more on later DVDs). The same tune also plays to open the show, along with lots of flashing lights, so there’s a warning for people with photosensitive epilepsy on the back cover and when the disc loads.
The gig was filmed at the Brighton Dome and lasts for 1 hour 17 minutes. It starts with some audience banter, before Russell rattles his way through jokes about trains, his lazy eye, time travel, a Charles Darwin exhibition, laughing at things you shouldn’t, a zoo in Sydney, the Royal Family, swine flu, politicians, angry people, his parents, sex education, losing his virginity, texting, little things that make him happy, getting mad with inanimate objects, having a good imagination, seeing a doctor, being naughty with mates and birds of paradise. And a guy is invited on stage in the encore to re-enact a story that he’s just told Russell.
There’s almost an hour’s worth of extras on the DVD as well, consisting of:
- A 3-minute alternative ending, where Russell challenges a guy to do press-ups on stage with him. It’s nothing special, just a bit of silly fun.
- A 16-minute Q&A compilation, where Russell talks to fans off-stage at Oxford, Manchester and Bristol. The random array of subjects he’s asked about includes trombones, tennis balls, money, Monopoly, reincarnation, fights, films, sex dolls, flies, unusual possessions, bets and turtles.
- Just over half an hour of his appearances on Live At The Apollo in 2007 & 2008. Some bits of material are reused from his specials, inevitably, but the rest isn’t, so they’re worth watching.
Right Here, Right Now
Given the title of this DVD, it’ll be no surprise as to which well-known track by Fatboy Slim is used as its theme tune. The 1½ hour special was recorded at the Hammersmith Apollo, and once again Russell has lots to talk about, including London, his favourite foods, trashy TV, the heroes and crazes of the younger generation, the Westcountry, sex, ailments, animals, his girlfriend, his mates, gay people, his mad family, a holiday in Thailand, pensioners, funny news stories, the upcoming 2012 Olympics, William & Kate’s Royal wedding, drunk women, his dog, the minds of kids, and the random things that cheer him up in life. He also presents a few photos to illustrate occasional things in his routine, and there’s a surprise addition to his outfit at the end of the show.
The closing credits are accompanied by the track Informer by Snow, which I’m not a fan of myself, but it’s relevant because Russell mentions it during his act. I also recognise it a little bit because, in more recent years, fellow comedian Adam Hills has referenced the song on The Last Leg several times, doing a parody of the chorus when he mentions Labour leader Keir Starmer.
The two extra features on the DVD are also good fun:
- 18 minutes of deleted scenes, including a bit from the encore, a technical fault, strange heckles, cut jokes, other outtakes, and an audience Q&A, before he finishes with a guy on stage.
- An interesting 8-minute interview with Russell, where he talks about how he got into stand-up comedy, while visiting a couple of the venues that he first performed at 12 years previously.
Russell’s final DVD release is another 1½ hour show, this time filmed at the Bristol Hippodrome, and using Dissolve by The Chemical Brothers as the theme music. This time Russell jokes about Bristol, strange people, airports, computer repairs, pranks, Americans, Glastonbury, strange fears, racism, Wales, Norway, children, the Daily Mail, morning glory, vaginas, his brother, exciting things as a kid, dogs, weddings, atheism, superstitions, and his mother and sister. He even keeps in a bit where he fluffs a bit of his routine and jokes about it before getting back on track again. And there’s a really sweet and very funny encore about a young cancer patient he met.
There’s only one extra feature on the disc, but it’s a good one, as Russell spends 25 minutes having unscripted banter with the audience at the end of the show, answering some of their questions and others that have been sent in online. So that goes in all sorts of random directions as you can imagine!
Russell’s first Netflix special, lasting just over an hour, was filmed at the Brighton Dome in 2017. The title stems from his belief (which is still accurate today) that we need to recalibrate the UK and the world, as there’s so much division and bigotry out there. And laughter is one of the most important things in life that unites us, including the ability to laugh at ourselves.
So he makes his point in a very funny set that includes jokes about a wide variety of topics. As well as sharing anecdotes about various family members (including his girlfriend, brother, nan, grandad and young nephew), he also talks about Piers Morgan, Donald Trump, The Queen, why women are better than men, being in America, going to Liberia for Comic Relief, idiots, terrorists, being a kid in the 90s compared to the current generation, women self-harming, sex and porn, cannabis, worrying about death, gay people, a mystery suitcase, moments of wonder, and his suggestion for a new national anthem, among other things. So it’s another enjoyable show, and the music used for the credits is Absent Friends by The Divine Comedy.
This second special consists of 2 episodes, and even comes with audio description.
First there’s an hour-long stand-up gig, recorded in August 2021 at the Hammersmith Apollo. So inevitably there are some references to the Covid pandemic, with talk about lockdowns, anti-vaxxers, and how female leaders dealt with the crisis much better than people like Boris Johnson. And as usual he has a lot of material about his family, including his dad, his epileptic brother, an amusing uncle, a grumpy aunt and his young nephews.
But he also touches on a myriad of other topics, such as animal phrases, heatwaves, Gwyneth Paltrow, oral sex, anal Botox, social media influencers, diabetes support dogs, his wonky eye, people who complain about jokes, racism, another new national anthem, gay and trans people, knife crime, problems with his bottom and self-preoccupied people.
He also rightly holds the opinions that we need more empathy in the world, that it’s important to have joyful memories, and that’s it’s good to be daft sometimes. And his overall message is that laughter is the lubricant that makes life liveable for us and those around us.
The second episode, meanwhile, is a very interesting and honest hour-long documentary called Until The Wheels Come Off. It captures the impact of the Covid lockdowns on Russell’s plans to do a massive world tour to celebrate 20 years in comedy (which the documentary was originally going to be about). We do still see some of the preparations for the tour in 2019, including clips from warm-up gigs, but it’s mainly about what happened from 2020 onwards.
So we see Russell returning to live with his family, while his wife joins all the other incredible NHS workers in looking after people. And as a result we learn about Russell’s relationship with his parents and siblings, how he got into stand-up originally, and his perfectionist approach to putting his material together. And then we see the creative ways he gets back into doing stand-up once restrictions begin to be eased, including a socially distanced festival in the UK, a trip to Covid-free New Zealand to perform several gigs there and in Australia (which was covered in-depth in the fun 3-part documentary Russell Howard Stands Up To The World), and then returning home to do a few gigs in a football stadium.
So it all illustrates how Russell is a dedicated professional. Sure, he needed to work to earn money during that period anyway, but it’s also very clear that he always wants to do the very best he can for his audiences, and therefore puts a lot of effort into it.
So there you have it, I hope you enjoyed that run-through of Russell’s stand-up shows. He’s appeared in loads of other programmes as well of course, many of which I’ve seen, including his appearances on Taskmaster, panel games and stand-up comedy shows that I enjoy. So I’ll certainly try and see him again whenever he does his next tour.