“How many milkshakes could Little Mix drink in a minute?” muses Russell Howard, imagining the sort of skit that might be expected from someone fronting one of Sky’s most popular shows. “I’m not interested,” he decides, “but I would love to have Little Mix on and talk to them about things they genuinely care about. There’s a weird thing with celebrity at the moment, ‘No, no, no, I don’t want to talk about that, I want to stay on my brand’. Luckily I gave up on that years ago.”
While film stars perform party pieces on Graham Norton, Michael McIntyre sends prank texts and The Generation Game is resurrected so people can make innuendo jokes over potter’s wheels in prime time, irreverence reigns. Most comedians and light entertainment shows on TV deal with the big issues of the day by not dealing with them, leaving a gap that Howard is making the most of.
Russell Howard’s Good News ran for six years on the BBC, a topical digest serving as an antidote to all the doom and gloom out there. It became one of the network’s top-rated programmes before Howard, frustrated by what he couldn’t say on the BBC, moved over to Sky last year for The Russell Howard Hour.
As before, there is a mix of stand-up, celebrity guests like Ed Sheeran, but critically another element. Each episode sees Howard deliver a righteous rant against some social ill. Clips with names such as ‘Apparently I look like Ellen DeGeneres’ and ‘My most embarrassing sexual encounter’ get thousands of views – others get millions. Titles include ‘It’s so sad that selfies are causing girls to self-harm’, ‘One in three elderly people suffer from loneliness’, ‘Being a teacher is one of the hardest jobs in this country’ and ‘Why is it so hard to buy a house?’, which has had over nine million views. They’re hardly laugh-a-minute subjects but are striking a chord.
“I found out that one in four 16 to 25-year-old girls self-harm, which really upset me,” Howard says. “I started talking about it at gigs and tried to understand why it was happening. A lot of it is to do with the pressure of being young, the fact that house prices are skyrocketing, education costs thousands, and social media pressure.