Chippenham comedy fans were treated to a special surprise gig last night when Russell Howard performed to 100 people in a barn, amid his sold-out arena tour.
The Wonderbox tour, the comic’s first for three years, includes a string of international dates including New York and Sydney as well as London’s 15,000 seater O2 arena, and new dates announced on Wednesday.
Chippenham’s Old Road Tavern was lucky enough to score an unadvertised gig with him yesterday, before he headed off to his next date on Monday at the Royal Albert Hall.
Most of the ticket prices are close to £30, but for members of Chippenham’s comedy club, tickets remained at the usual monthly night price of £5.
The club is run by the town’s own professional stand-up Wil Hodgson, who became friends with Howard when they were on the same bill back in 2001 at the Bunch of Grapes in Bristol.
Last night’s turnout was very different from when Howard last gigged in Chippenham at the Rose & Crown about 12 years ago, a decade before the hit Good News was voted best ever BBC3 show.
The 34-year-old from Bristol, who has been in the top five DVD comedy chart across all his stand-up titles, turned heads as he strolled through the Tavern’s beer garden before taking to the stage in a sweaty, buzzing barn packed to the rafters.
The audience was treated to anecdotes about Hodgson and in jokes only Chippenham’s residents would understand, about his love for big women and Monica from Friends - but only in her flashback days.
Howard spoke about being hit with his best ever heckle when a woman threw a sex toy at him in the Cross Keys at Corsham.
After a consistently laugh-out-loud and at times heartwarming set, predominantly about his family, the crowd was left wondering which comic they would rather spend an evening with – Russell Howard or his brilliantly uninhibited mother.
Support came from Bath's Tash Bartlett.
After seeing the show Jade Holt, 24, of Langley Road, said: “It was fantastic. I never imagined such a big name would do such a small venue with his status. It’s nice he’s down-to-earth, doing a gig for a mate.”
Lindsey Miller, manager of the Old Road Tavern, said: “It’s been a really special night. Russell had the barn in stitches and came across as a lovely guy off stage as well, very composed and professional.
“I’m very proud to have Wil as a local. He treats us to some of the best acts on the circuit and I’m looking forward to what’s to come in the future.”
Hodgson said: “It’s good to see a real big name comic in the sort of club where they cut their teeth. You can’t really get as much of a flavour if you’re sat at the back of the O2.
“When I told Russ what I was doing here he offered to come and I was glad to take him up on it. He’s not forgotten his roots, regardless of how big he’s become. He wasn’t fast-tracked to TV, his success is a result of years of hard graft on the circuit, and being a very good stand-up.
“There will be more secret gigs, which people will hear about if they come along to the monthly nights.”
The next comedy club event is Bethany Black on Sunday May 4.
Also to come is Chippenham’s comedy festival, returning for a second year on June 6-8, with BBC New Comedy Awards winner Angela Barnes among those already booked. Tickets will be available from the Old Road Tavern from next month. Follow on Facebook.