You never quite know where Howard Read will pop up next, and the comedian is certainly busier than ever before. Together with his cartoon creation Little Howard, their act has become an unexpected hit with adults and children alike, spawning a CBBC series, taking the pair all over the globe and even performing in front of the Queen.
“My ambition when I started doing comedy was to never have a proper job. Now unfortunately I think I work harder than if I did,” he laughs. Although best known for his quirky double act, he also performs on the circuit and is coming to Liverpool later in the month for some solo shows. He’s a regular face up here, and uses his trips up north – staying with his in-laws in Oldham – to get as far around the region in one go as he can. Before now, he has performed his kids show and a solo show each day at the Edinburgh festival.
His solo work focuses on life as a dad of two small children, “a chance to get it all out of my system in a way I can’t with the family shows. With the kids show you can be a bit rude, but I can do some quality filth with the adult stuff. I love doing stand up, it’s a nice release.”
Despite now being a familiar face on kids TV, that wasn’t at all what Read had in mind when Little Howard came into being. “When I drew him in my bedroom in 2002, I did it to publicise my first stand up show,” he said. “I kind of thought there must be a reason no-one’s done an act like this before. It was just a stupid idea and I never expected it to go anywhere, although it’d be nice if it did. I certainly never expected to get on the Royal Variety [in Liverpool, in 2008] with it. Now I’ve taken it to New York, Aspen, Melbourne, New Zealand – it’s taken us all over the world.“
Eventually, after years of having to explain to adults that it wasn’t a show for kids, he realised there was too much interest in the act as a family show to let it go. “It was incredibly easy, as it turned out, to change the jokes that were too rude and make it work.”
With three series of CBBC show Little Howard’s Big Question behind them and the live show Little Howard and the Magic Pencil of Life and Death drawing a big family audience, the pair have never looked back. Read has been performing the Magic Pencil show since 2007, and the time has come to put together something new. The problem is, of course, how to top such a successful and unique piece, and Read is currently working with co-writer Chris Chandler to devise a way of making Little Howard go 3D.
“It’s lovely to have two audiences in on one joke,” he says. “The adults like it and the kids like it, because funny’s funny. One Edinburgh reviewer saw the show and said Little Howard was brilliant but I was rubbish. Although it doesn’t sound like it was an incredible compliment, because the whole act is he’s the funny one and I’m the straight man, and people buy into it and the mythology of it. It’s a running joke that Big Howard isn’t funny.”
Howard Read is performing solo at Laughterhouse on June 17 and 18. Before that, you can catch Little Howard and the Magic Pencil of Life and Death as part of the Llangollen Comedy Festival on June 12. The fest is run by Crosby comedian Silky, who says: “All-age comedy shows, such as Little Howard work on lots of levels, with adults having as many laughs as children.”