Posted: Thu Sep 20, 2007 3:51 pm Post subject: Sean Hughes
Sean Hughes returns to stand-up at Edinburgh
8 Aug 2007
When he performed at the Hay-on-Wye festival earlier this summer, one of a small contingent of comics deemed sufficiently erudite to entertain the literati, Sean Hughes made a throwaway remark involving Madeleine McCann that caused all kinds of ructions.
As he puts it: "The press had a field day. They wanted to crucify me. In Ireland, there were phone-ins saying I should never be allowed to work again." And what exactly was the offending comment? "It was the week the McCanns went to visit the Pope. The line I said was: 'I see Madeleine McCann's parents went to see the Pope. I can't see he's involved somehow. I know he's a Nazi, but come on!' Anyone knows that's a joke about the Pope. But the Independent said: 'Sean Hughes thinks Madeleine McCann is fair game for a laugh.' They were inciting people to get angry."
It's hard not to concede Hughes's point: the butt of the joke - distasteful as some may find this, too - is the head of the Catholic Church. And while you could argue that Hughes should have erred on the side of caution, the McCann case has become a talking point around the world: should only comics refrain from alluding to it?
Preparing for his first appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe this decade, mid-way through a renewed onslaught of live gigs after an eight-year absence from stand-up, Hughes warns that he may well talk about the incident at the festival. And he'll definitely touch on it when he tours his native Ireland in the autumn. "I'm looking forward to confronting those people," he says. "I should be able to say anything I want to - that's what comedy should be about."
So what's happened to Sean Hughes since he last performed comedy big-time? He's older, obviously, but has he grown colder too? Certainly there were ample vestiges of the nimble-witted scamp who endeared himself to a whole generation back in the early '90s when I caught up with his new solo show earlier this year. Having gone off at a tangent, pursuing his novel-writing ambitions while appearing for six lucrative years as a team captain on the pop trivia panel show Never Mind the Buzzcocks, not to mention stints on Coronation Street and ITV's The Last Detective, it was reassuring to see that he hadn't lost his skittish touch for his first love.
But there was no getting away from the fact that he and his audience have changed. "I'll always be eternally 12 inside, but this last year, I've realised I'm not young any more," he confesses frankly, hunched forward, the shadows under his pale blue eyes inescapable. Many of those who knew him of old have settled down with partners while he has stayed single - "I have settled down, but on my own," he says, flashing a crooked-toothed smile. "Relationships haven't worked out, and "without wanting to sound too pretentious about it, I chose art over life. I decided to concentrate on my work."
That's made him more tough-willed, more prepared than ever to be the odd one out. Edinburgh, scene of his breakthrough triumph in 1990, when he became the then youngest winner of the Perrier award, will offer stay-at-home pleasures this time. "I'm taking lots of DVDs with me - my plan is to watch 10 of my favourite films, one for each day I'm there."
His singleton status and solitary pursuits - some of them bawdy enough - are providing him with a fertile source of material. As he jokes early on in his show: "I thought when I was 41, I would be married with kids. Well, to be honest, I thought I'd be divorced with weekend access." There's plenty more where that came from at present, yet you can't help wondering how long he'll be able to keep this kind of one-way conversation going.
As he steps outside for a fag, Hughes tells me that he's finally planning to quit smoking this year. Whether there's a right, dignified time to quit stand-up is a question he's leaving for another day.
Sean Hughes interview This very talented Irish rascal is back with his new show. Dark, ingenious and always sharp as a...
By Tim Arthur
Mar 31 2010
He's written novels, captained a 'Buzzcocks' team and even done Corrie, but now Sean Hughes is preparing for later life with elasticated trousers and a return to stand-up. Time Out joins him for a look back at his long career.
When did you first realise you wanted to be a comedian?
'I wanted to be a comedian right from the age of 13. I was blessed by the fact that I knew I was fucked in the head and realised that meant comedy would be perfect for me. I saw Richard Pryor's ìLive at the Sunset Stripî on the telly and just wanted to be him. I don't mean black-up, but to have that skill to be able to go: I'm fucked up and funny as hell and I'll talk about that. Little did I know he was on crack at the time.'
You've described your childhood before as being 'unbearable'.
'Well, it was. Basically there was no ambition in our family, and rightly so, we'd not come from anything. It was like the Lowry painting, my childhood, just watching these massive people getting on the bus in the dark to go to work, and coming back in the dark. I'd worked part-time as a trolley boy when I was at school, just so I had my own money, and my family were delighted when I was offered a full-time job there. It was at that point I said, ìWhat are you talking about? I'm not going to do that for my whole life. I'm going to go over to England to do stand-up.î They gave me no support whatsoever.
I nearly didn't make it though. When I was 19 I took my first acid tab and had a bad trip and it freaked me out for about a year. I had massive panic attacks and got the shakes. I was crippled by the paranoia. That was a real changing point for me, I could either hide under my bed for the rest of my life or just face it and get out. I went to see a psychiatrist and said: ìLook, I'm having panic attacks every day but I'm going to go over to London to start doing stand-up next week; will I be all right?î She said: ìI advise you strongly against going anywhere right now.î But I thought if I don't go now I'm never going to go, so I went.'
Was London what you expected?
'The weird thing was that I hated the gigs and I got bored of the circuit almost straightaway. I was playing The Comedy Store and hating every minute of it. Jongleurs used to make me sick to my stomach, having to go on to those people. After a while I basically decided that I was going to give up comedy if my first solo Edinburgh show didn't work. But that turned out to be the year I won the Perrier, which led to ìSean's Showî and so on.'
You stopped doing live stand-up for a few years. Why?
'I think it was because I became quite lazy, really, and also because, after I'd done my own show, I found myself playing these big, 4,000-seater venues packed with 14-year-old girls screaming at me. They didn't care what the hell I was saying. And I just went: ìI can't do this,î and I stopped doing the shows because of it. That wasn't why I did comedy. I'm quite edgy, I still scare people a little bit, even though I don't mean to. But I just wanted tell the truth and be listened to.'
So why did you decide to come back to live work?
'I went into comedy right at the start for all the wrong reasons. I just wanted to be famous. But I soon realised just how blessed I was to be able to be given time on stage to say exactly what I wanted. I lost my way for a little bit but never really forgot that feeling. So now I do it for love and thank fuck. There's 12 year olds now going: ìHello Wembley!î and I'm going ìHello Gilded Balloon! Is there a stair lift in this venue?î The thing is, now I don't do it for the money, I do it because I want to.'
Since leaving ìNever Mind the Buzzcocksî you've deliberately avoided doing any TV that might put you in entertainment's 'celebrity' category…
'I think if you 'celebrate' someone for their good work, that's brilliant. But my problem is with celebrities who are famous but have no talent. What's even worse is when all your heroes let you down. What are Iggy Pop and Johnny Rotten doing in those adverts? Do you go: I'm 50, I've done some great work, but now I'm going to sell my soul so I can get a more comfortable chair to sit in? I get quite angry about it.'
It's good to see that you haven't mellowed with age. How has the 44-year-old Sean Hughes changed?
'I say things in shops that I never thought I'd say, like: ìWhere's the elasticated trouser section?î I also hate the fact that I now get out of breath after even mild exercise. When I was walking up here today, I was thinking: if I die now, it wouldn't really be a ìtragic deathî, it would no longer be ìSean Hughes died tragically youngî. And that's a little shocking to me.
My audience are mostly my age so tend not to heckle any more. Except the other night when I was talking about being vegetarian on stage, and this woman on the front row turned and whispered something to her husband. I asked her what it was and really innocently she said: ìI just didn't realise vegetarians could get fat.î To which I replied: ìHave you never seen Buddha?î
I don't know what she thought I did - get up in the morning and climb trees with squirrels for berries. The unexpected side effects of ageing are another one of the down sides of getting older. For instance, I gave up smoking to try and get fit but all it's done is screw up my metabolism and given me a fat face. Brilliant.'
Sean Hughes' 'What I Meant to Say Was…' is at the Soho Theatre, Apr 15-17 & 22-24.
Sean Hughes - 2014-03-11 - Janice Forsyth download
Sean Hughes tp present weekend radio show
He’ll be on-air each Sunday from 12 till 2pm.
“I can’t wait to get started on my new Sunday show on Fubar,” says Sean. “I’ll be having a laugh with fellow comics, interviewing top notch guests, hosting live sessions from great musicians, and learning about philosophy. It’ll be good tunes and no bullshit – the perfect accompaniment to your Sunday afternoon.”
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