Jeremy Hardy: I'm a Professional Misery Guts
Jeremy Hardy speaks to the nation at a theatre near you very soon. That’s right, one of Britain’s most popular comedians is hitting the road, and will be appearing imminently at your local comedy venue. He is performing a new show, and it promises to be an absolute treat.
One of our most compelling and respected comics, Jeremy has a huge and loyal following thanks to his superb work as the presenter of Radio 4’s Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation and a regular guest on The News Quiz and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue. But he is also a brilliant stand-up comedian.
To prove the point, he has won the coveted Perrier Award at the Edinburgh Festival and mounted numerous sell-out tours of the UK and Ireland. Subversive and satirical, Jeremy is not afraid to stir politics into his topical stand-up routines. But above all, he is just killingly funny.
Don’t just take my word for it, though. The critics have been queuing up to lavish praise on this wonderfully accomplished comic. The Guardian has said he is, “One of the sharpest comedians on the circuit.” and The Financial Times said “One minute lewd, the next blimpish, the next acerbic, he is always one step wide of insult and one ahead of expectation.” The Strabane Chronicle describes him simply as, “Britain’s own Michael Moore“.
Jeremy and I are chatting in the run-up to the tour. He makes for enormously engaging company. He is a rare example of a comedian who is just as entertaining offstage as on it.
The comic, who has also wowed audiences at the Montréal Comedy Festival, begins by underlining how much he relishes live performance. “I love being on the road. It’s how I started, it’s where I come from. I really enjoy the sense that it’s all happening there and then.
“I love that feeling of immediacy and the fact that nothing is cut out. When you listen to a radio programme that has been edited down from a live recording, it’s always been commodified and turned into something else. But on stage it’s all there, and it is only happening that night.”
Breaking into a smile, Jeremy continues that, “Mark Steel, bless him, performs a different show every night, which is perhaps a little unwise in terms of conserving energy. My show changes over time, but from one night to the next the material is very similar. Having said that, I might talk about it if I’m freezing cold or tired. Sometimes reviewers come along and mention my ‘rat in the dressing room’ routine, and I think, ‘I don’t always talk about a rat in the dressing room – only in Monmouth!’”
The other aspect of live performance that Jeremy enjoys is coming face-to-face with his fans. He says that, “I like the feeling that I’m touching base with people. They get to see my progressive decay. Because I’m on the radio, people don’t know what I look like. They think I’m in my 70s. They have this vision of a Wilfred Pickles-type character!”
Jeremy, who was also starred on such TV shows as QI, Blackadder Goes Forth and Mock the Week, reveals that he also really likes touring because, “I’ve developed a great fondness for this land. I don’t mean that in a Countryside Alliance kind of way. But because I’m on the road a lot, I see a lot of new places and I always get a lot out of that.
“However, the other day I went to a town and I was convinced I’d never been there before, but it turned out that I had actually been there three years earlier. That’s because places increasingly look the same. They all have the same car park and the same high streets.”
He is especially delighted to be performing on this tour not in aircraft hangars, but in more intimate venues. “I like smaller spaces because you can see the audience, and you are more aware of them. When you’re at the back of the circle in bigger venues, you can’t see anything, and you’re basically watching TV. I can’t see the point of that. There is a Nuremberg Rally element to it.”
One thing Jeremy promises he will not be doing is pestering you. “I don’t hassle the audience. If you’ve got no ideas, don’t bother the front row with questions about what they do for a living. That’s just to distract them from your own lack of material.
“But I love the fact that the audience are there. I get lost a lot during my act, so they help me out. And don’t worry, I won’t be selling you the DVD of the show that you’ve just seen. I suppose I’m like a folk singer touring the country, but I promise I won’t sing any horrible tunes!”
One reason why Jeremy has such devoted fans is that they are drawn to his marvellously downbeat stage persona. “Obviously, I’m a professional misery guts,” he deadpans. “That’s what we do in this country. We have a sort of Wartime chipper resignation. We’re cheerful, even though everything is absolutely ghastly. I was born in 1961, and that mood was still around then. It was only 16 years after the War, and you still heard people talking about it and saw people walking around with limbs missing.”
He goes on to explain that, “The misery guts persona works so well for me because, for a start, people aren’t sure how genuine it is. But they also like characters such as Victor Meldrew, Tony Hancock and Leonard Cohen. People like miserable acts. Throughout post-war British comedy, there have been characters like Captain Mainwaring and the Steptoes. We like that attitude because life is quite hard and disappointing and a lot of things go wrong.
“A lot of people feel buffeted. Life is what happens when nothing else works. There is no point having a grandiose plan, because suddenly the roof falls in and you have to rethink and do something different. That makes people feel powerless.”
Jeremy, who has also written a book, “My Family and Other Strangers”, charting his desperate search for interesting ancestors, carries on that, “The spirit of resignation and muddling through and making the best of things is peculiarly British. Americans don’t get it. When they ask an audience what they do for a living, they want people to say, ‘I’m the CEO of a weapons company’. They don’t want people to say, ‘I duck and dive for a living’.”
Audiences are also attracted to the political vein that runs through Jeremy’s humour. He says that, “I talk about politics because I’m interested in it, just as comedians who are interested in sport talk about that. I discuss politics in the broadest sense – it’s not all about trade figures and you don’t need to bring along a notebook.
“Obviously, in the show I talk about what’s going on with this coalition government. It has destroyed the Lib Dems. It’s fascinating to see how they got themselves into this ghastly mess and how Nick Clegg has become such a lost and tragic figure.”
Jeremy, who in the show will also be addressing such diverse subjects as transgender people, hip-hop music and the different roles we play when we are with different people, proceeds to say that, “Class is also big issue in politics at the moment. There is a big difference between the old-fashioned, noblesse oblige, paternalistic Tories, and the current lot for whom government is like the first day of the grouse season.
“Also, in the old days, politicians used to be older than me. They were like the bad guys, or the bosses. But now that I’m older than most people in the government, I understand those grumpy old colonels who write to The Daily Telegraph complaining about how things have gone to the dogs. It must be enormously annoying when you’re 150 years old and fought in the Boer War and you’re seeing how all these 30 year olds are messing things up.”
He adds that, “Tory columnists sometimes say they’re big fans of mine. But that’s because the right sees the left as amusing court jesters. To them, we’re like the musicians at the Cotton Club, inferior, but rhythmic.”
Jeremy closes by reassuring us that he is first and foremost a comedian, not a politician. “I first became interested in politics during the era of Mrs Thatcher. I felt everything which was good about my country was under attack. But I wasn’t thinking, ‘I can sort this out with my irreverent and sideways look at politics’. People say that comedy can change things. But I think AK-47s are more effective.
“However, I don’t think I’ll ever use one. If I tried, I’d just miss!”
Tickets for Jeremy Hardy’s tour can be found at http://www.jeremyhardy.co.uk/
Courtesy of James Rampton