Stand-up comedian Russell Howard returns with a new series of The Russell Howard Hour, taking his trademark satirical look at current affairs and recent events in politics.
Here, he shares the books which have had an impact on his comedic career and early life, selecting the titles he’d stack up on his Fantasy Bookshelf.
Howard explains what he saw in both himself and The Very Hungry Caterpillar, the book he wishes was never written and shares his dream to voice an alcoholic polar bear.
When you were growing up, which character would you say you were most similar to?
I’d say probably The Very Hungry Caterpillar because I was always starving and I was peculiar looking and I hoped that one day, things would be different.
What did you read growing up and would you recommend the same to other children?
Everything by Roald Dahl I just destroyed, just loved it. You forget the magic with kids and books, where all these adventures are billowing around in your head. You get so much of that with Roald Dahl.
I’d say do all of Roald Dahl as your starter and then The Chronicles of Narnia are your main meal and then your pudding, when you’re ready, would be His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman.
What’s amazing about the Philip Pullman books is that it starts off with talking animals and polar bears and all this malarkey and by the end it’s about killing God.
Are there any books about comedy which have resonated with you?
The Steve Martin book, Born Standing Up. He talks about being an open spot by doing comedy for free, and then performing in pubs and then performing in arenas. It’s the only book where I as the reader know what all of those things feel like.
It felt like it was a book written for me. I was reading going, yeah, that’s why arenas are like. It’s quite difficult to talk to people about what it feels like when you come off stage having done the O2 and then there was this guy speaking about what it was like in like 1980.
What have you read which has inspired your coverage of current affairs and news?
Alain de Botton wrote a brilliant book called The News which is about the way that the news works, the various patterns that happen and why things are sensationalised. It really puts the way that the news is presented into perspective.
He made this really great point that the only thing you would hear from certain countries is things like, “massive explosion” rather than, “very normal day here, very normal day”. It put everything into context.
You often share positive stories on your shows. Is there an uplifting read you’d recommend?
On the Road by Jack Kerouac. I have not read a book that inspires wanderlust more than that. It just makes you want to get out there and experience existence and find yourself in weird positions.
You know, go to weird bars and meet people and have conversations, it really makes you want to get in amongst them. I read that when I was a kid and it just blew my mind.
Which audiobook has made you laugh the most?
Alan Partridge’s We Need to Talk About Alan. Absolutely beautiful, particularly his chapter on Noel Edmonds, it’s exquisite. The completely fictitious rivalry is just magnificent, it really is.
If you could convince the author of any book to change their story, which would it be?
The only fault I’ve got is with Roald Dahl’s Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator. I remember really vividly aged nine going, “this is s**t!” I would tell him not to write it.
I love everything he’s ever done except for that one. It broke me a bit, it’s like seeing Lionel Messi miss an open goal. I would say, just don’t bother, Roald.
If you could narrate the voice of any character in an audiobook, which would you choose?
I’d probably go for Iorek Byrnison in His Dark Materials, who is a polar bear who fights and is an alcoholic.
If you could tell everyone in the world to read one book, which one would it be?
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. I loved it. I read it in a week on holiday in the Maldives and it was incredible. My wife went deep sea diving every morning and I just literally sat in the sun reading this book.
It’s about this guy, based on a true story, who was a convict and escaped Australia and founded a surgery in a slum in Delhi. It’s one of those books that makes you just want to leap into existence and leave your mark on the world, you know?
What was the last book you read?
It was about stoicism, my friend Joe Maggio told me to read it. It’s called Letters from a Stoic and I can tell you how far I’m into that [checks ebook], 1%. It felt a bit industrial, I needed it chopped up a bit.
He’s an American director, a pal of mine that I met doing my travel show and he’s just like, “you got to get into stoicism, man.” He’s this kind of hippie that tells me what to think but I didn’t feel like I was quite ready for it.
Do you have an all-time favourite book?
Catcher in the Rye, I really loved that as a kid. To Kill a Mockingbird, one of the greatest books ever written, the first hundred pages of that, it just glides. I love Chronicles by Bob Dylan, it’s one of the best books about creativity I’ve ever read.
1984 is also a phenomenal book and there’s [lots of] quotes in there. I’m one of these guys who likes to underline stuff a lot when I read books, kind of ruin them.
Series four of The Russell Howard Hour premiered on 10th September at 10pm on Sky One and NOWTV, whilst Russell’s return to the UK with his rescheduled world stand-up tour, Respite, begins on the 25th February 2021.
Read Russell Howard’s Fantasy Bookshelf:
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Roald Dahl Complete Collection by Roald Dahl
The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life by Steve Martin
The News: A User’s Manual by Alain de Botton
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
I, Partridge: We Need to Talk About Alan by Alan Patridge
Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator by Roald Dahl
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts
Letters from a Stoic by Seneca
Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Chronicles by Bob Dylan
1984 by George Orwell