Comedian Russell Howard Stands Up To The World, Traveled To New Zealand In New Series
Sitting in his quarantine hotel in Auckland, tasting government-issued pineapple chunks, comedian Russell Howard has gone a little crazy.
“Obviously you’re going to go nuts, you know, two weeks on your own,” he said.
But experiences that followed, like being able to freely hand out hugs in a Covid-free country or giving Sam Neill’s prize pig a massage so good it elicited gratified growls, made the British comedian’s time in isolation. managed so interesting.
“The days went by relatively slowly, but on the other hand, the joy you get from the crowds because they know you spent two weeks in a hotel, it was so nice,” Howard says. “It was such an amazing experience knowing that there were people waiting for us outside.
“And we literally played the first night out of our forties. It was one of the best concerts I have ever done in my life.
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While on his comedy show Respite tour of New Zealand and Australia in January and February this year, Howard also filmed a three-part travel series titled Russell Howard Stands Up To The World, which chronicles his journey in the two countries.
The host of Russell Howard’s Good News visited places he had never been before and spent time with New Zealanders from all walks of life, including a fishing expedition with the Prime Minister’s partner, the presenter of Clarke Gayford television.
He also spent a day with Sam Neill, whom he describes as “one of the most glorious people in the world” in the vineyard of actor Central Otago. What was supposed to be an hour of filming turned into an afternoon soaking up Neill’s award-winning product.
“Sam loves to pour, so we ended up staying there a good part of the day, and it was one of the best drinking experiences because all the animals are named after actors. So you get drunk and there’s a chicken walking past and he’s like, ‘Alright, Kate Winslet, how are you?’ It was such a surreal thing.
However, Howard didn’t just hang out with local celebrities.
He also met lesser-known New Zealanders who were in turn entertaining and inspiring. One experience that really struck a chord with the 40-year-old artist was meeting a group of community-minded casket makers in Rotorua.
“It really upset me because the world of social media would imply that we are constantly fighting and there is no middle ground and there is no joy.
“And then you go to this coffin club and there are retirees who make coffins because coffins are really expensive – which I didn’t know – and they do it with a smile on their face.
“It really killed me just in terms of cuteness. You know, the cuteness with the sparkling eyes. It was really special.
Howard says the series, and the Coffin Club story in particular, really resonated with viewers in the UK.
“It wows everyone because basically humans crave that kind of sweetness.”
Howard says he wanted to create a show New Zealanders would find funny but which would also reveal facets of Aotearoa that may have been unknown to British audiences.
“I wanted to do something that didn’t really make the usual stopovers.
“I don’t wanna do stuff about, you know, your accent, your butt and all that.” I mean, it just got done. And it’s just not fun. But there are so many things in your country that are so intriguing, welcoming and special.
“But I didn’t want to be grumpy or mocking or whiny, because it was all fun.”
Well, not all. Howard says learning to dive with a bomb, or manu as it is called in New Zealand, was a particular challenge.
“It’s funny. I can stand-up in front of 15,000 people but do a manu, I was so scared.
Including quarantine, Howard spent six weeks in New Zealand and his extended stay allowed him to perform in some of New Zealand’s smaller towns and villages that would normally have been overlooked in a pre-pandemic world.
This tour opened Howard’s eyes to the possibilities outside of the major centers, a sentiment he also shares with fellow comedian Bill Bailey.
“It’s just such a beautiful country. It’s a great place to go stand-up. But it makes you feel like “God, there is more here.”
Russell Howard Stands Up The World, TVNZ 2 and TVNZ On Demand, Wednesdays