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I TALK TO Russell Kane

Last week, I caught up with Russell Kane to chat about Stupid Man, Smart Phone, his feelings towards the whole experience and what it was like to return to BBC Three.

This week, BBC Three welcomes back one of their most recognisable talents, Russell Kane, as together with an online star, is dropped anywhere in the world with just their smart phone to help them survive.

Despite BBC Three moving online, they still seem to find the idea of binge-watching a strange one, and have decided to strip the series across six weeks, much like a traditional linear television channel would, rather than dropping the entire lot in one go, which means each episode will be made available Sundays from midday.

The first episode, Russell is tasked with taking a camel across the dry, unforgiving North Saharan terrain with online prankster and Vine superstar, Arron Crascall.

Challenges include making fire with camel dung, winning over the hearts of the remote Berber tribe, preparing and cooking a desert lizard that’s still moving, surviving an Egyptian cobra, giving each other rectal enemas. and generally coping with the boiling hot, dehydrating desert.

But the biggest test of all comes when they realise within 10 minutes of obtaining the camel they need to transport, that they have absolutely no chance of moving it more than 20 metres; let alone across country. However, it’s all alright because according to Russell and Arron, they’ll be successful in their mission, because they’ve got their smartphones!

How did Stupid Man, Smart Phone first come about?

It started from the sentence "Well just go and Google it mate." Anything could happen to me and you now. Someone could patch into this conference call. I could be over at yours and a pipe would burst.

Yes we could call a plumber. Yes we could call a phone technician. But could we Google it and get a YouTube video and blag it on our own? If we work slowly and with the right tools, probably yes.

So then you take it to the next level. We don't really need to go to Uni anymore, you can do Open University and online seminars. How far can you take the sentence "Mate, just go online and learn it there"?

Well the ultimate test would be to dump you in the Arctic, up a mountain, in the desert, in a forest on the ex-Soviet border with fuck all apart from a smart phone and find out whether or not you can survive.

That's where Stupid Man, Smart Phone was born.

So were you involved right from the beginning?

Unfortunately not. Otherwise I'd be getting worldwide rights! (Laughs) Only joking.

I was involved once the idea was roughly generated and I came on board to finesse it, work out how it was going to work and hone in the idea.

When I came on board, it was going to be someone and a YouTuber each episode and then they sort of changed strategy and thought it would be funnier if it was one consistent presenter, which luckily was me - High-five to self! - and there was a new guest each episode, where I'm showing them around.

The reason being that we worked out that I'm learning every episode. I can't help it. I now know how to make a fire with a tampon and hand sanitiser. I can't unlearn that unfortunately.

Whereas whenever I bring someone new on board, they're a shaking, quivering wreck, starting from scratch each week. (Laughs)

Having someone with you must have helped?

Yeah, of course it does. For example, in the Norwegian episode, we meet this Norwegian explorer guy and he said "More important than your warm jacket, your gloves and everything, is the gift you've got" and he pointed at me.

He went "As long as you can keep that good humour going, that will keep you alive longer than a bar of chocolate if you were on your own feeling miserable."

So keeping your spirits up when you're genuinely fucked is so important. It's not just survival. I didn't want to make a shit Bear Grylls, where I'm like him but crap at it.

It needed to be funny and entertaining as well, so I had to use the comedian side of my brain 24/7 as well as the physical survival part of my body 24/7! So both of those together was fucking hard. Hard to keep going. Hard not to turn into a diva and not want to film, because you're just so tired.

You want to go to the toilet and you want a shower. When there are two of you, you keep each other up. It's really important.

Out of everyone you had with you, who was the most fun?

Oh mate... everyone was fantastic. I wouldn't want to say anyone was more fun than anyone else. I think with me and Arron, we're at the same sort of stage of life so we probably had the most in common.

We're both men of a certain age. Got their careers slightly later. Slightly befuddled by anyone interested in anything we have to say. Both cowards. Both no physical skills. Both had panic attacks. Both a bit shit in Winter.

So I suppose in that sense, that's why that episode with Arron is so cracking.

I really enjoyed the episode with Rose and Rosie in the Arctic. Some of the scenery there is some of the most breathtaking stuff I’ve ever seen in my life. I just remember pulling up in  dog sled, looking out to my right and it was like - I don’t believe in God or anything like that - but it was as close as you can get to almost believing in something, when you see the northern lights dancing in the sky.

We had dinner in a hut with this eskimo, although you’re not supposed to say eskimo apparently, it’s offensive, so I think you have to say indigenous person, and it was so amazing, just to see this little warm hut in the middle of the Arctic Tundra and he’d made this dinner.

I loved it, but poor old Rosie, she’s Vegan so she was in deep trauma because he pulled out a reindeer’s head, that was dinner and he just hacked it apart with an axe. He was boiling the brains and the tongue and Rosie started to get upset, so I was trying to explain to a translator that she’s a vegan and doesn’t eat meat.

And I swear to you, he said “No problem. I’ve got something for her.” What do you think he brought out from under the table that was meat-free? Blood. (Laughs) He went “there’s not meat in this, just the blood” and turned it into a pancake! (Laughs)

She didn’t eat that though did she?

No. I fucking ate three of them though, they were lovely. Aw man, it was good. Blood pancake. I think it was blood, a bit of flour, a bit of sugar. I was hungry. I was eating a hot pancake in front of the fire in the Arctic Tundra! I think maybe scenery wise, the one I enjoyed the most and experience wise was probably the Arctic.

The other ones I could see beauty, but my body was thinking “I don’t care how beautiful this thing in front of you is, but this is shit and I need a shower”.

That was one of my favourite moments, dinner in the eskimo hut.

What was the biggest challenge you faced?

The toilet. Not having it. It was horrible. It's just not something I've ever done in a bush. It's not something I'd ever want to do in a bush again... although there's talk of a second series already so I guess I will be!

It's fucking mental. We're so pampered. I can't remember the last time I spent three days without showering in sweating weather. Shitting on the floor, and eating an animals head I've just cut off. I mean it was fucking horrific.

I had to look away during that lizard scene in the first episode.

Oh mate, the rabbit one is worse. This rabbit I was given by a hunter is bigger than my cat. Me and Mazzi Maz were hidden in this disused bunker, this was the Polish episode, and I had to try and hack the legs off a rabbit. It was just like beating up my own pet from the sofa. I was nearly in tears.

How do you get over the emotion and not just give up?

I'm a nervous person that hates public speaking, I do stand-up, and the second that camera's rolling. The second the attention is on me, there's not much that I'll say no to basically.

As a comedian, you're pretty fearless, so I just borrowed that sort of comedian balls and transferred them across to survivalism.

Did you ever genuinely fear for your life?

When we went into the burka village, I've got to be honest, it did cross my mind that we are two guys and a skeleton crew of 5, and if one of the elders in the village pulled a knife, or pulled a gun or something and said "Give me all your shit. We're going to make a YouTube video and we want a certain amount of money before we let you go" - we'd be fucked.

We were four hours from Marrakech, with a very traditional Islamic tribe in the hills, it's very easy to offend, because you don't know their ways. We walked straight into their camp and didn't know what their rules were.

Before, they gave us this SAS talk and said "They're not normally violent" so we were so nervous. Arron refused to walk in. i can't remember what is in the episode, but he hovered outside for ages holding the cow, not sure about going in.

I just thought fuck it, I handed out my DVDs, I handed out protein porridge to the kids and they were making it with boiling water from the fire.

We were there for a couple of hours and then we were like "Right, thank you very much. We've refreshed ourselves, we'll move on" and the guy put his hand on my arm and went "No, you're not leaving. You're staying."

I told him we had to leave because of this mission but he went "No, you're staying" and I shit myself, because I remembered all those urban myths about tribes that would welcome you in but then if you try to leave hurt you on the way out.

It was all in our heads! It was all in our starved, panicked, paranoid, pampered, western heads. They were friendlier than the estate I fucking live on now.

Were you ever let down by people on social media?

Oh loads. All the time. 90% of what comes through on Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat is “I like your hair”, “Why don’t you try and light your own foot?”, “Why don’t you fuck off and die?” - 90% of it is that. And then you’ve got to hope that something comes up like “My dad’s a survivalist, do you want to Skype him?” - and then you’re like “Yes! Production, get in touch with this person and set up a call."

We did a Periscope, where the only solution was based around the camel shit we had on the car. Which wasn’t there by accident. But I couldn’t work out how to light shit.

I didn’t know that shit was flammable and would burn as a fuel. I genuinely did a Periscope where I asked “Anyone know how we can make dinner? All I’ve got is a bag of shit.” Someone said you can burn poo, so I Googled it, and sure enough you can light camel poo and it burns like coal. I mean I just would never have fucking guessed that.

There must have been some positives?

I’m not just saying this to be a drama queen, but honestly, it was really really hard. But I knew that the harder, and the more unpleasant I found it, the funnier it would. It would be so tedious if Arron and I looked like we were enjoying ourselves, high-fiving and having a great road trip. It would just be a shit Bear Grylls.

Honestly, from the moment I stepped off the plane, to the moment I got back to the hotel for the wrap party, it was just a kind of “When will it end?” mixed with the thrill of having the camera and being able to be funny 24/7 - which is all I want to do to be honest Elliot. That is all I want to do. I love doing stand-up. I love being funny.

This project is a weird mix of emotions for me, because I’m no poo in a bush, animal skinning camper, but the idea of being given that platform to go and be funny with an eskimo in a hut, was just mental.

Doing this once is hard enough, doing it six times must be really difficult. Did you ever think of stopping after a couple of episodes?

Do you know what, I’ve just had lunch today with the CEO of Objective, the very top of Objective, the company who made this programme, and I said I have never ever had both fist ready to punch the air before. One fist will punch the air if I heard I’ve got a second series, the other would punch the air if I heard I didn’t! (Laughs)

It’s mental. It was hard, but I know that’s what makes it. It’s the same as saying, I don’t want to do Live At The Apollo because it’s so scary that I can’t leave the toilet for a day. Live At The Apollo is good because it’s so fucking hard.

If Stupid Man, Smart Phone does come back, I will do it. But quite rightly at the back of my mind is this voice going “Just fucking let Chris Ramsay do it instead!” (Laughs)

You were a big part of BBC Three when it was on TV, now it’s moved online are you surprised to have been asked back? Do you treat it any differently?

The honest truth is, I thought me and BBC Three were finished. I stuck a suit on, combed my hair. I’m doing sort of political things now. I’m going to be on Question Time on June 2nd. I’ve moved management, I’m with Off The Kerb. My theatres are fuller than they’ve ever been so obviously it was what I needed to do to start appealing to older people.

The theatres are full of people of all ages, yes there are 17 and 18-year-olds in there, but people who used to watch me have come back. People in their thirties and forties and fifties, thank God. So I thought, that’s me all grown up, I’ve done my best to save BBC Three, I’ll stick a suit on and here I come BBC One.

And of course this project comes along and it’s the biggest thing I’ve ever done for BBC Three. The difference this time is, that the negative has turned into a positive. Because BBC Three is online only, that now means most BBC Three shows end up on BBC One or BBC Two, which is better.

But that doesn’t mean it’s definite. And I’d love to tell you that we’re on BBC Two on a Sunday night. I wish I could tell you that. We still haven’t heard. But there’s a good chance that we’ll end up, I’d imagine, on BBC Two with a programme like this because it’s still got a bit of an edge to it.

How lovely to have an evening slot on BBC Two. A Wednesday night, or a Sunday night, something like that would be perfect. If you’re reading this BBC, that’s where I want to be!

Stupid Man, Smart Phone is available from Sunday 1st May on BBC Three


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