HEARTFELT, clever, filthy and funny... there are few comedians who stand astride the broad, messy sweep of life in Britain as effortlessly as Russell Howard.

A fresh-faced everyman, the affable West Country comic has graduated from cheeky laddish joker to zippy purveyor of high-octane observational hilarity grounded by his no-nonsense background and strong moral compass.

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A keen observer of the quirkiness and absurdity of life from across the political and social spectrum, the affable Bristol-via-Hampshire funnyman is engaging, energetic and, above all, relatable. And therein lies his charm and appeal.

He is successful but there is no bragging or showing off, there is no arch intellectual concept, and while provocative, he doesn’t bludgeon with shock and offence for the sake of it.

Our Russell is 43 now and married to a medical doctor. He has grown up and his comedy reflects that. The willy jokes and toilet humour have (partly, at least) been replaced by insightful dissections of society, jibes at the powerful but useless, and his trademark anecdotes of family life – all delivered at breakneck speed with an engaging innocence and delight. He barely stops smiling.

Such is Russell’s popularity that less than three months after playing a sell out show at Oxford’s New Theatre, he was back at the George Street venue at the weekend for two more days – with all seats again snapped up.

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I caught him for a Sunday matinee (July 16) – a gig on a drab showery afternoon which he confessed he thought would be rubbish. In the hands of anyone else, it may well have been so. But while the audience may have been sober (or still hungover), peeved by the soggy summer weather, and imbued with that creeping dread brought on by the fag end of the weekend, the energy was electric.

July has been a bit rubbish and we were all in need of a giggle, and that’s what we got – in spades. The laughter was constant and relentless.

At times his arcing interwoven narratives flowed as a stream of consciousness ramble. It was, however, elegantly structured, dotted with callbacks and looping references to people and incidents vividly introduced earlier in the show.

Our Russell is no slouch. He had done his homework – and probably read this newspaper.

He jibes the crowd with winking nods to the classic bookish Oxford stereotype while fully aware that the audience could hardly be less donnish.

“You’re clever and terrified,” he grins as he mocks our reaction to one edgy segment.

“I can feel the vibe of the city!”

Impressively, he has a dig at Oxfordshire County Council’s controversial plans to fine motorists from driving through the city by effectively blocking main roads with ‘traffic filters’ armed with spy cameras.

“Still the council wants to wring more money out of us,” he rails to widespread murmurs of agreement, adding: “’No! you’re only allowed in this part of the city... stay there!”’

On the whole, though, politics is avoided, other than digs at easy targets such as Boris and a naughty knock at the Royals. But while he avoids dividing the audience, he is endearingly forthright on key issues – not least trans rights and freedom for individuals to make their own lifestyle choices. He has short shrift for hypocrites, those who seek to pit us against each other, and the over-sensitive and easily offended.

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He is touchingly open about family. A piece about identical twins at a funeral is wonderful, and his description of a night of passion between his parents had us all squirming... before he hitting us with a trademark twist.

‘Why can’t we all just get on?’ seems to be the question at the heart of his free-flowing set. There’s more that unites us than divides us, he is saying, and it’s important to keep laughing at, and with, each other.

Brilliant stuff.