To interview comedians, you don’t often journey to Belgium to attend festivals of Flemish tradition. When talking to them, you’re not often distracted by a useless fox, prostrate on a desk, intermittently swishing its animatronic tail. However that is Kim Noble we’re speaking about. Obsessive videographer of his personal life, skilled cleaner and darling of Euro arthouses. “I don’t class myself as a comic in any respect,” he says. “However I nonetheless have this inbuilt factor that I have to make individuals snigger.”
He’s actually achieved so tonight – albeit to extra of a efficiency artwork crowd than he might discover in London. We’re backstage on the Campo venue in Ghent, the place he’s been growing (for seven years!) Lullaby for Scavengers, the third within the trilogy that started in 2009 with Kim Noble Will Die and included 2015’s outstanding You’re Not Alone. Each exhibits honed Noble’s signature video-and-performance model, blurring life and artwork, melancholy and fragile hope, the tender and the (notoriously) repellent.
“However this present could be very tame,” says Noble. That’d be simpler to credit score had I not simply watched a present wherein Noble reclines bare in a shower stuffed with maggots, tries to snog his mum, and attaches a Heath Robinson fox alarm to his swollen gonad. And but, for all its provocations (“for me, they’re simply a part of the jigsaw of the present”), Lullaby for Scavengers is a strikingly lovely hour, as Noble struggles to stay amongst people in addition to some unloved members of the animal kingdom (foxes included) and appears to query: who’s the true vermin right here?
As in You’re Not Alone, the present is at its most stark depicting the 47-year-old discharging his final obligations to his dying dad. Nevertheless it’s additionally a broody present, a couple of man “at that time the place everybody I do know has a accomplice or children or a home, and I sort of don’t,” he says bleakly. “I don’t know what I’ve.” What he has is a maggot for a daughter, a useless squirrel retrieved from his attic and now co-presenting the present, and a job (guerrilla-videoed for our pleasure) cleansing for a significant insurance coverage agency – which “began as an artwork undertaking then turned the true factor”. With Covid wiping out a lot of his work, Noble now is dependent upon cleansing for an revenue.
All of which could justify, you’d assume, the depressive forged of his work. However, isn’t it exhausting to maintain the “I’m a loser” conceit when your work is being lovingly husbanded by the esteemed manufacturing home Campo, when your current podcast was critically acclaimed, and if you’ve a two-week run at Soho theatre brewing?
“It’s bizarre as a result of that doesn’t make any distinction,” replies Noble. “I’m already nervous concerning the present being over. I’m already like: that’ll be me achieved, completely.” His success, he argues, is constructed on brittle foundations. The 2020 podcast collection, Futile Makes an attempt (At Surviving Tomorrow), has not been recommissioned. One outstanding UK pageant pulled out of Lullaby for Scavengers, which Noble was “fucking furious about. However I believe they didn’t have the ability to take care of one thing that might have some damaging pushback. Which this present might.”
That’s what’s at the moment regarding Noble, an artist whose work, even earlier than the appearance of so-called “cancel tradition”, usually outraged audiences – for cannibalising the lives of those that seem in his movies, for its sexual explicitness, for presenting Noble’s actual psychological ill-health in ways in which haven’t at all times felt secure. “My work’s a fucking can of worms,” he admits. “You open it up and the place do you begin?!” Whither such work, by a middle-aged white man no much less, in an age when exhibits that search to goad and provoke are badly out of vogue?
“I am a little bit of an outdated white dinosaur,” says Noble. “And I do blame my lack of alternatives now on these shifting sands. However generally,” he provides, glumly, “it is likely to be as a result of the stuff isn’t excellent.” And as for the present present? “I don’t assume it’s as impolite [as its predecessors]. However as a result of expectation has shifted, it’s nonetheless precipitated a little bit of a stir.”
I believe audiences – audiences with robust stomachs, actually – will love Lullaby for Scavengers. It’s made in good religion; it’s asking questions that – give or take the bathful of maggots – apply to most of our lives. And it additionally finds Noble a mite extra comfortable and fewer fragile onstage. “Earlier than, I hated doing the exhibits,” he says. “Hated it. I didn’t need to do them. I needed to do different stuff. However now I don’t have some other stuff, I’ve come to be just a little bit extra relaxed about it.”
Whether or not that may translate to success in his dwelling nation – the place individuals nonetheless think about Noble a comic, and the place comedians’ phrases and actions are topic to fierce argument – stays to be seen. “Right here in Belgium,” he says, “it’s a extra theatre/experimental efficiency setting, the place they’re used to individuals sticking issues up their arses and being bizarre onstage. Within the UK, who is aware of what’s going to occur?”
Kim Noble: Lullaby for Scavengers is at Soho theatre, London, 15-24 September, and 15 March-8 April
Brian Logan’s journey to Ghent was paid for by the manufacturing firm Campo