Si Hawkins Circuit Training

Circuit Training 64: Disturbing Jeremy Hardy

Jeremy Hardy

One baulks at using the hackneyed term 'national treasure', but it does spring to mind when in the company of the likes of Jeremy Hardy. A frequently controversial lefty now clutched to the mighty Radio 4-listening bosom of Middle England, he's off round the shires again from mid-September.

Actually when I say I was 'in the company of', it basically just consisted of a phone call at some ungodly hour of the morning, to the extent that Hardy was pretty much still asleep. We reconvene five minutes later. "Ok, I've had a cup of coffee," he groans, "now I can sit down and concentrate..."

So what are the themes of your new show?

I'll be talking about perennial concerns [goes a bit too quiet to hear at this point, clearly still awaiting full caffeine infusion], stereotyping, language, and also the way we perform as human beings, the personas that we use. I haven't put it all together yet.

Do you add many topical bits as you go along?

It really depends what's happening, I don't force topical stuff in; if it doesn't come it doesn't come. Sometimes it can be a really terrible or infuriating thing [in the news], but so much so that you can't really find a way of making it in any way entertaining.

I forget sometimes that people haven't read the papers or watched the news, as I assume that I have a Radio 4 demographic. But sometimes people have no idea what I'm talking about.

Do you ever test material out before touring it?

I don't. I think a lot of things only really work in the context of the whole show, two thirds of the way through the second half or something. I always feel what I'm doing is trial and error, and work in progress. It keeps it interesting. If I had a show that I thought was absolutely word for word exactly right and perfect, and then I've got to go out and do that for four months, I'd think 'Oh God' - I might as well put on a tape of it.

Edinburgh shows often suffer that, people desperately sticking to the hour so they don't get fined...

For me I want to see a show that's an evening, with a break in the middle so I can have a wee, that's what I do. You change over time and I've been going for so long, probably it's quite different watching me now than how it was 10, 20, 30 years ago. I'm not the same person.

Jeremy Hardy

So what drove you to do stand-up originally?

It's being a show-off really. If you've always wanted to perform, be it sport or acting or music, then you're a show off basically, and I think I probably was a bratty, show-offy kid. You grow out of that and other things take over.

I'm very comfortable on stage when it's going well, or when I'm in the dressing room. Sometimes I feel most balanced and at peace in a dressing room in a small theatre on my own, eating an uninspiring sandwich, with lots of bits of paper and a pen. Because that's what I do, and have done for 30 years.

It sounds almost idyllic.

It's lonely. I'm used to myself now so it's alright, but there are Friday nights where you've done the show and it's gone well and you've gone and sat in a hotel, wide awake, watching Friday night TV; that can be fairly bloody miserable. Especially when the comedy comes on and you see all the people earning a bloody fortune, doing stuff that's been written by writers, and you think 'oh God,' it's like a slap in the face. But that's fine.

Do you still pitch TV ideas?

Very rarely. I've done bits over the years, if I added it all up quite a lot, some bits went really well. There's a series I did called If I Ruled The World [1998 - 1999], with Graeme Garden and Clive Anderson. That was really good and that got axed, which was a real pain as that was working really well and I was really enjoying it, we all were. That was devised by Richard Osman who became famous with Pointless, and it was a great idea, a sort of comedy Question Time where we were in character basically, we improvised in the style of politicians.

But I did a series with Jack Dee that got universally panned [Jack And Jeremy's Real Lives in 1996]. It got buried, it started at ten thirty on a Friday night and they moved it to 1am. We were being quite irresponsible probably, with Channel 4's money, because no one was reigning us in.

Which presumably doesn't help when you then want to pitch something else?

You get to the point where you think 'I can't bear the thought of doing it.' It's better getting knocked back straight away rather than being in development for a year. People keep sending it back saying 'change this' and 'change that' and you gradually realise that they're not going to do this [project], but they don't want to tell us.

Jeremy Hardy

That seems odd.

I think they quite enjoy that process. The worst thing you can do with television is write a series then show it to somebody, or write a half hour and show it to somebody. If you've already done the work then they're not interested.

They need to think that it's their idea...

Exactly. Also I don't really enjoy the process. I like the location stuff, but the process of recording in a studio can get very dull. So I've never thought 'I really want a career in television.' I'd like to have done more, and been in more things. I'd like to have been in Father Ted - I auditioned for Father Ted. I was in Blackadder. But radio's a great medium to work in because it's very immediate and word-based. I don't often have visual ideas of what a thing might look like.

Do you get much Blackadder recognition these days?

Not really, and people who know me say 'I didn't know you were in Blackadder - I just saw it the other night.' I get recognised for really odd things. There was a show I did with Rory Bremner when I'd just started called Now - Something Else, and people come up to me and remember that, which was 1986. But then they'll ask what I've done since, which is a bit dispiriting!

I'd have thought you'd be due the big 'grandee of comedy' reappraisal soon?

That can happen. It's weird, I haven't worked with a producer for a long time that's older than me... well, I suppose the producer of I'm Sorry I Haven't A Clue isn't that much younger. Usually I'm working with people in their 30s, but there's something nice about that as well, it forces you not to sit back in your comfort zone, because a lot of people won't remember you from 30 years ago.

That's why I don't look back that much - obviously we're doing an interview and it sounds like I spend my life thinking about all these things. Someone pointed out to me the other day that it's 25 years since I won the Perrier Award, and I honestly don't think about it. You can't, it'd be ridiculous to think about something like that, unless you see it in a cupboard.

Perrier Award Winner 1988. Jeremy Hardy

Did the Perrier Award (pictured) make a bigger impact back then?

No, you got a run in the West End, at the Donmar Warehouse, which was great, and a load of people only came because there was a buzz around that show. Then there was a flurry of television ideas, and sometimes they were very much the wrong people: 'we want this guy, he's won this award, make a pilot with him.' It comes from nowhere and doesn't usually gel properly. I spent a year in development after the Perrier award and none of it came to anything.

So there wasn't a path mapped out. Some people have it: Eddie Izzard's got a very good head for career strategy, which is unusual in somebody as funny and creative as that. He's just not scatty, Eddie. Not cold blooded or ruthless, but he'd be a very good agent. He's a very good manager of himself.

So did you just want to make people laugh early on, or talk issues?

To an extent, but I was much more career minded in the early days. A lot of people had just got very big, people like the Comic Strip, Alexei and Jennifer and Dawn, all those people got very successful very quickly. And I thought 'well that's what happens then'; that there's this natural progression where you just grow and there's a TV thing that you're doing, and it all flows. It didn't particularly. I did quite well early on, but it's fits and starts, you think 'I'm on television, this is going to be great!' and then it just stops, and people think you've done something wrong. 'Oh he did that series but they cancelled it.' You're tainted.

But also, I remember sort of thinking, 'you know what, there's something unsavoury about the world of television.' I think probably even in those days, people were talking about Jimmy Savile, and you'd think 'oh God, ugh!'

Jeremy Hardy's tour begins on 13th September and runs until late December - visit for details.

Published: Sunday 8th September 2013

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