IT'S THE end of January and Ross Noble is stretching his comedy muscles on a warm-up date in Tasmania. Coming offstage still full of energy – with plans to watch a dodgy David Hasselhoff comedy before the night is through – he is cheerful and chatty, although he does tell me of his concern for his wife Fran and their new baby daughter Elfie, at home on their farm in rural Victoria, Australia.
"They're safely at home at the moment," he says. "Well, I say safely at home: I got off the plane and then rang my wife to see how she was doing and if the baby was happy; and a massive bush fire had kicked off at the end of our road. All of the local engines are on standby. So I've left my wife in a cross between Dante's Inferno and I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here."
Scarcely a fortnight after our conversation, this turns out to be no joke. The bush fire intensified and the farm, with its three pet cows and idyllic views of kangaroos, possums and wombats, is razed to the ground. Noble and his family lose everything. They retreat to St Andrews on the outskirts of Melbourne, relieved not to have been among the 200 dead.
Calling up an Australian radio station, he describes the events as "apocalyptic", but admits he is "incredibly lucky". "It's just stuff that we have lost and that really doesn't matter," says the Geordie comedian. "But there are a lot of people who aren't in a position where they can just start again or aren't insured. Where we are there's nothing there. Even for people who were ready, it was just too much."
It is ironic that only two weeks earlier Noble had been telling me how, at 32, his life is finally on an even keel. "For years all I did was do gigs," he says. "My whole life was just: get up in the morning, travel to the next gig, kill time until I was onstage and whatever happened on the way would be fuel for the gig. That was my whole existence. But of late I just took some time off. I've actually got a life now. I probably work harder than I ever have – I do as many gigs – but I've learned how to do other stuff. My shows have got better because of it."
With any other comedian, you could be certain that an event as dramatic as a house burning down would form a central part of their set. But with Noble, there is no such certainty. A master of the improvised digression, he never does two shows the same.
"It's quite funny with the Edinburgh show," he says, recalling a memorable Playhouse night during which, among other things, a fight broke out in the stalls. "At that gig someone put their shoes on the stage because they'd done it at the previous gig. Something happens in the show, then a year later you go back to the place and people are making reference to it. If you're not careful it can become an episode in a 10-year soap opera."
Noble, who's been doing stand-up since the age of 15, reckons it's all he's good for. "That's the sole purpose for my brain," he says. "It's my brain's primary function. If I was doing that and at the same time I had to diagnose illnesses, we'd have a big problem. All my brain has to do is process nonsense. When you look at it that way, it's less impressive."
It's a philosophy that translates onstage into a carefree love of living in the moment. "It's not like a film where you can re-edit, take a different angle or change the pace of it," he says, having just done a one-off riff about gassing dolphins with hose pipes. "It happens and then it's gone."
With such variety from night to night, what is Noble's definition of a good gig? "It's when I'm firing on all cylinders and I make myself laugh," he says. "If the audience is entertained, that's a good show; a great show is when I've been laughing as much as they have. When it feels more like play and you feel you're not following the rules." v
Ross Noble's Things is at Aberdeen Music Hall, Tuesday; Eden Court, Inverness, Wednesday; Perth Concert Hall, Thursday; Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Thursday until Sunday; Edinburgh Playhouse, June 1 www.rossnoble.co.uk