Russell Howard: Respite

Russell Howard played a show in the Gartenbau Kino with his Respite program.
Seen on: 12.5.2022

Content Note: rape

I had a good time with Russell Howard for the most part, though there were several moments where his jokes were this close to derailing for me, and I froze a little. But fortunately, the laughter was stronger.

Russell Howard smiling as he holds a mic, behind him a full stadion in black and white. The image announces a "Rescheduled European Tour 2022".

Before Howard came on, there was a short opening act, but unfortunately, I can’t remember the guy’s name or find it online. It was a nice opening, with maybe one or two jokes that pushed things too far. In that sense, it set the tone nicely for Howard’s program, so well played.

I had originally booked tickets for this show in 2020 knowing very little about him, after a friend recommended Howard. His tour was rescheduled a couple of times due to Corona and one would think that I could have used the time to watch his earlier programs. But I didn’t. So even though I had the tickets for more than two years, I knew practically nothing about him or his style of comedy.

My friend had warned me back then that he has a tendency to get this close to saying problematic shit, but he usually manages to swerve at the last second. And that is certainly what I experienced too that night. I have less of a problem that he joked about a squad of antiheroes with all the “cancelled” comedians to be sent after Putin, although I don’t find the idea of Bill Cosby raping Putin as funny as he obviously does. I wasn’t that happy about him including a bit about people getting outraged about it because it is a part of rape culture that rape is seen as just punishment for some people, and that generally speaking isn’t funny. This felt like punching down to me – it’s not like feminists who argue against rape culture are in such a position of power that they actually outlawed rape jokes.

He briefly touches on TERF rhetoric and “cancel culture” as well, and while I got the feeling that he genuinely tried to be an ally to trans and other marginalized people, he remained a little too close to the liberal “free speech” and “let’s debate things” to really be effective there.

But of course, even though all comedy is political, politics isn’t everything that there is to it. The central thing are the laughs for sure – and he got plenty of those. He had some nice moments of interaction with the audience and the moments I talk about above where not that common that they ruined the entire evening for me, or even most of it. For the most part, I really had a lot of fun, the energy in the crowd was good, and the jokes took off.

The end of the evening was very unlike Austrians expect (but which is, I think, pretty normal in Britain): final gag, goodbye and off the stage he went, and that’s it. In Austria, people expect an encore and like three returns to bow one more time as the crowd claps. But I guess that’s the danger of an international tour. (Personally, I quite like the British way.)

Summarizing: a fun evening, even if Russell Howard won’t become my favorite comedian ever.

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