Russell Kane interview: Kane and able

RUSSELL Kane's emotionally intelligent comedy takes stand-up and Shakespeare to a new level, says Jonathan Trew

AFTER last year's Sachsgate debacle, Jonathan Ross and Russell Brand gave some people the impression that contemporary comedy might be boastful, bullying and vindictive but it could never be accused of being clever. Russell Kane, a shortlisted nominee for last year's If.comedy Awards, will make a convincing job of proving otherwise when his UK tour pulls into Glasgow later this month.

Gaping Flaws, the show which earned him much praise at last year's Fringe, was a savagely funny look at the uglier character traits which make Britain unique. From Britain's love of the bottle to our less sophisticated romantic techniques, it was seldom pretty but always incisively observed. It was also very catholic in its reference points. Trollope and Shakespeare were as likely to be mentioned as wife-beater lager.

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"I'm a big fan of bathos," says the Enfield-born comedian. "When you get a clash of the high and the low then the comedy comes from the tension between the two.

"Painters would call it chiaroscuro where, instead of painting what you want to see, you use light and dark and the meaning comes from the contrast between the two."

Given his familiarity with Renaissance drawing techniques and 19th-century literary figures, it would be easy to surmise that Kane is the product of a privileged Oxbridge background slumming it in the muddy fields of stand-up. Instead, his past is rather less well cushioned. His mother is a cleaner and his father, now deceased, was a panel beater. Kane's brother lives in sheltered housing after suffering drug-related brain damage.

Growing up in the Kane household, reading provoked suspicion rather than encouragement, especially from his father, but this didn't stop Kane junior going on to gain a first-class degree in English. The difference between his father's expectations of life and his own are what fuels Kane's comedy. David Kane died five years ago and his son performed his first stand-up gig the same month. It's only recently that Kane figured out that the two were connected.

"It is so unambiguous in my mind now," he says. "My dad died the month I started doing comedy and there is that horrible realisation that had my dad survived that heart attack then maybe I wouldn't have had a career. I don't mean that I'm glad my dad is dead. It's just that weird cycle of nature thing. Out of death comes life, and you start to realise that when he passed on, it unlocked all of this in me."

Large chunks of Gaping Flaws are devoted to the uneasy relationship Kane had with his father. David Kane could never bring himself to tell his son how proud he was of his son's achievements. According to Kane, the only time he saw his father show any emotion was when his favourite Indian restaurant shut down. In other hands, it could be mawkish. Kane's skill is in taking such potentially awkward raw materials and creating that rarest of beasts: an emotionally intelligent comedy show. Kane is the first to acknowledge that it is "incredibly Freudian".

"It's me processing my identity, trying to work out who I am," he says. "I don't fit with my family or the people in my estate. The people who came from my background, their prospects of success are more or less set at birth. Statistically, there is only one in a hundred that gets a shot at punching a way out, and that's why I'm still punching."

He has landed a few blows in his time. Kane is too good-natured to be accurately described as having a chip on his shoulder but, in keeping with his glee at mixing the grubby and the great, he relishes the chance to get one over on the establishment. He would stop well short of claiming any sort of iconoclastic status but he is the first to admit that he enjoys "confounding expectations".

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A long-running side project to his stand-up has been a short series of Fakespeare plays which place Shakespearean characters and language in an Essex boy, Southend setting. Having them broadcast on a comedy satellite channel was one thing but, last summer, Kane saw one of his productions take to the boards at the Royal Shakespeare Company. Apparently, The Lamentable Tragedie of Yates's Wine Lodge went down a storm, not least with Time Lord David Tennant who watched the play on his night off from portraying the Prince of Denmark.

"We had 600 people in," says Kane. "It was Hamlet's night off so I was standing by David Tennant. I absolutely freaking loved it. When we took that play to the RSC, it was the most relaxed and welcomed that I have felt at any presentation of it."

What some of the more traditional patrons of the RSC may have thought of it would be interesting to hear. The antics of Garyenti and Daveutio down Argos were probably not what they had in mind when booking a night at the RSC. Kane, however, felt perfectly at home.

"Once you go to the far end of the elitist continuum, these sorts of theatres have less to prove than the theatres which are on the way up. Those are snobby. They are the intellectually middle class. It's like in real life, the people who are the least snobby are the truly upper-class people."

The RSC may not know it yet but Kane hopes to strengthen his relationship with it. He has another Shakespeare adaptation in development and reckons the iconic Stratford-Upon-Avon theatre would make the perfect venue. The RSC has seen many a radical interpretation of Shakespeare's works but if Kane gets his way then it will be the first time that The Two Princesses Of Greggs has been staged there. v

Russell Kane's Gaping Flaws will be at The Garage, Glasgow (0870 013 5464), March 21, as part of Magners Glasgow International Comedy Festival