Russell Kane: "You can't wear a jester's hat and do brain surgery"
You’ve probably seen Russell Kane on the red carpet with the cast of The Only Way is Essex or dressed up as Beyoncé in a Stars in Their Eyes special for Comic Relief. Actually, you may have seen quite a lot of him, as he has also posed nude in Cosmopolitan magazine.
In short, the shy and retiring type he ain’t. Which makes his alter ego all that more remarkable. No longer is Kane simply a Perrier-winning motormouth with comic routines about doing a poo in his girlfriend’s flat, he’s also a high-minded literary novelist.
No kidding. Kane’s book, The Humorist, is a quite serious stab at literature. And to prove that his intentions bend more towards Amis and Houellebecq than say Danny Wallace, there’s even a quote from Zadie Smith on the cover – the lit crowd’s equivalent of Cheryl Cole. He is quick to admit that Zadie’s comment (“Russell Kane won’t let a moment pass without filling it with laughter”) refers to his stand-up, not his writing. But still.
“It is so depressing, the prejudice that exists under that canopy of comedian as author,” Kane says. “There is a kind of dread when people pick up a comedian’s book, [an assumption] that it is going to be light, insubstantial and pointless, or pretentious and missing the mark. But for me the two worlds are completely separate.”
Yet The Humorist is set in the world of stand-up. The lead character, Benjamin White, is a comedy reviewer who is physically unable to laugh. At anything. Yet he stumbles on the secret of comedy and finds that it can kill. Many reviewers have noted that, despite this, the novel is short of a few, er, laughs. Which riles Kane because he insists that being funny was the last thing he was trying to be.
“I’d be very surprised if anyone is laughing at this, although I suppose there are bleak, black laughs in there,” he concedes. “I know I will get mauled by the critics. There was one in The Observer that said ‘the humour falls flat’. Well, what humour? I wasn’t trying to be funny. I guess if you have a jester’s hat on and you are trying to do brain surgery forget it: no one will let you near their head.
“I have used the stand-up comedy world as my subject matter because I’m too busy and too lazy to do any research, but it could have been anything. It could have been about watchmaking. The first-person narrator is the opposite to me in every way. Not everyone is going to get it though and I understand that.”
Kane’s novel reveals what he describes as his “cultural bilingualism”. He went to Middlesex University – the Tottenham campus, he points out – because it was close enough to home to carry on hanging out with his mates and getting stoned in the park.
He got a first in English lit, “not based on a passion for books but because of a sociological anger about my chavvy background and how close I was to ending up in a factory like everyone else in my family. I was so pissed off in an immature, textbook Marxist way I actually learned everything while being angry.”
He writes in the morning – usually after listening to “an audiobook of some great work of literature, to get my brain working” – and already has a couple of manuscripts in the drawer he feels no compulsion to publish, especially if the reaction to The Humorist is overwhelmingly negative. In the meantime, comedy remains the day job – and with two shows on BBC Three the week we chatted, it’s lucrative too.
“I am passionate about both, but they are just not connected,” Kane says. “It’s like being a good cook and also flying aeroplanes.”
The Humorist by Russell Kane is out now in hardback (Simon and Schuster, £12.99)