NORTH Eastern comic Ross Noble knows how to make an entrance.

When he plays the Grand Opera House in York on Sunday, there will be a giant inflatable skull on stage and its mouth will fill with smoke, whereupon Noble will walk out of it. "My sets have always been a bit Spinal Tap," he says, ahead of an 8pm show with around 200 tickets still available.

"There’s no need for them, but it’s just funny to have these big, over-the-top creations on stage. People turn up and go, 'Woah', and then I don’t really mention it."’

Noble will be playing York on his 16th stand-up tour, El Hablador, with its familiar combination of surrealism, acute observations and semi-improvised structure, spread over 68 dates. "The great thing about stand-up is you’re face-to-face with real people," he says.

Looking back over 20 years of touring, the 42-year-old Newcastle comedian says: "When I started, all I did was tour; I was just a vessel. I’ve got more of a balanced life now, but I can still retain the essence of being in the moment," he says. "I realised quite early on that stand-up can teach you everything you need to know about life, which is: have one eye on the future, have one eye on the past, but live in the present."

Defining his style of comedy, Noble says: "When I started people said I was 'surreal', and that’s a bit of a lazy description, because it sort of implies that anyone could do it. Now, I think I take the building blocks of the real world and then stretch and manipulate them. It’s more like 'magic realism' than 'surrealism' . That’s the way I see it… and that’s the most pretentious thing I’ve ever said!"

He returns to stand-up after showcasing his singing as well as comedic talents as Igor in Mel Brooks's Young Frankenstein in the West End. "And my dancing! I was Olivier nominated, you know? But I don't like to talk about it," says Noble, who won the Best Supporting Actor in a Musical gong in the What's On Stage Awards.

"It's nice to be doing stand-up again, because I feel like I’m exercising different muscles; still comedy muscles, but different types of comedy muscles. On stage, the transition from doing a musical has been fine, but off stage it’s been a bit weird."

In what way, Ross? On account of no longer being part of an ensemble? "Yeah, but not just an ensemble, a real world-class team. Going back to being just me, making all the decisions; in one way it’s the ultimate freedom, but sometimes giving yourself a restriction can be quite liberating in itself."

Mel Brooks is still working at 92, but does Noble envisage following suit? "Having spent time working with Mel, I can, actually. Sure, he’s had more success than any other comic on the planet, so you could say, 'Of course he’d still be going!', but I do look at him and think: there really is no reason to slow down."

Ross Noble: El Hablador visits Grand Opera House, York, on October 21, plus Harrogate Royal Hall, October 19; Scarborough Spa Grand Hall, December 2, and Leeds Town Hall, December 13 and 14. Box office: York, 0844 871 3024 or at; Harrogate. 01423 502116 or; Scarborough, 01723 821888 or; Leeds, 0113 376 0318 or