Interview: Josh Howie
Josh Howie’s mother inspired the sitcom Absolutely Fabulous and made him undergo bizarre new-age rituals as a child. No wonder he turned to comedy.
A nose for humour: Josh Howie has been described as the English Woody Allen and counts Joan Rivers as a fan
I f you are still beating yourself up about missing Josh Howie at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, you can stop. His hit stand-up Chosen (as in “chosen people”) won rave reviews in the national press and comedy legend Joan Rivers laughed at every gag when she saw the West End version last September. But now Howie is bringing the show back to London.
“There are so many jokes in it, it’s just silly. There must be 300 jokes!” exclaims the 32-year-old ex-public schoolboy, who has been labelled “the English Woody Allen”.
If there are so many jokes, it’s because he has a lot of material to draw on. The autobiographical show examines his attempts at coping with his “overpowering mother”. The said mother is new-age-obsessed PR guru Lynne Franks,who was the inspiration for Edina in the BBC comedy series Absolutely Fabulous, making Howie the equivalent of Edina’s uptight and sceptical daughter Saffy.
In Chosen, Howie discusses his confused sense of Jewishness and his involvement with his mother’s experiments with other religions. He regularly had to chant with 100 Buddhists who came to the family home. And during a Native American rite he was “re-birthed” aged 18 in a hot tub with his mum naked by his side. He also took a “vision quest” when he was left alone in the wilderness for 24 hours awaiting the arrival of “his spirit creature”.
Howie rebelled by going to Israel, working on kibbutz and training to be a rabbi. “I became this Orthodox Jew; that’s how I found myself,” he says. But he was thrown off the course after being caught in flagrante with a girl — and a non-Jewish one at that.
He is now married to therapist Monique Duffy (the Geldof family’s ex-nanny, who has converted to Judaism). She is expecting their first child. “We made a deal — she would let me work on this show for three months, uninterrupted, and I would give her a baby”, he says.
Chosen has been criticised for causing offence and Howie would like to put the record straight. “It’s never going to make everyone happy,” he says. “There are jokes about ethnicity and homosexuality [sample line: ‘Two schlongs don’t make a kike’]. But you have to come with an open mind. What I love doing is picking on people a bit. I’m not one of those shock comedians who is shocking for the sake of it. There’s a point to everything I say.”
Howie has been polishing his act since last year. “It’s so much funnier”, he insists.
People who missed it at the Fringe will be heartened by that.
Chosen is at the Soho Theatre, London W1 on January 31 (Tel: 020 7478 0100)