Comedian Jeremy Hardy on how his grumpy persona hides a love of live performing
- Credit: Off The Kerb
Jeremy Hardy makes for entertaining and acerbic company. The comedian possesses an appealingly downbeat attitude. For example, he has no time for 'this awful vogue for false cheeriness in comedians'.
'That's all a bit CBeebies,' he says. 'I don't go with this perkiness that's around at the moment. I appeal to people's chipper sense of resignation and stoical determination to keep going. I should have been around in the Second World War. I was born after my time.'
Now in his fourth decade of a successful stand-up career - he reckons that, without a lottery win, he has another 30 years ahead of him - Hardy is one of Britain's most critically lauded comics.
Rising through the vibrant 'alternative cabaret' scene of London in the early 1980s, he won the prestigious Perrier Award in 1988, has become a fixture on Radio 4 through shows such as The News Quiz and Jeremy Hardy Speaks To The Nation, and his membership of the legendary I'm Sorry I Haven't Got A Clue team has brought him before a whole new live audience with its touring show. He has also appeared on film opposite Robert 'Twilight' Pattinson in 2011's How To Be.
This diverse CV now means that an audience at any Jeremy Hardy show can be a mixed bunch who could be there for a variety of reasons.
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'I never quite know who the audience is,' he admits. 'You'll get some Radio 4 listeners who are conservative, though quietly so, and some people come along because they've seen a leaflet. Others might have heard me on I'm Sorry I Haven't Got A Clue which has almost no politics whatsoever but they've heard me singing one song to the tune of another and that's what they think I'll be doing.'
What he will certainly be doing when he brings his latest show to this region is taking the political temperature of the nation, albeit through a more personal lens.
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'I am talking about politics but more about how these things impact on me and affect me emotionally in terms of feeling bewildered and battered by them. I'm not trying to sound like an authority... It's much more the ramblings and discontents of a person in the back half of life.'
One thing definitely not to expect is a swathe of material about social media. While being far from a Luddite he is less than enthusiastic about things like Twitter.
'I think it's peaked because there's just too much of it and you end up following too many people and you can't keep track of stuff unless you're sitting there on it for hours every day,' he says.
'When I first went on Twitter, I thought it would help publicise gigs, whereas now I could tweet 'I'm coming to Middlesbrough' and within five minutes I'll get a tweet saying 'when are you coming to Middlesbrough?' So unless someone happens to be looking at that space on their computer at that particular second, they're not going to see what you've written.'
In such a disparate and overly fluid world, trying to work on stage with references that everyone will understand is increasingly more of a challenge.
'Finding things that everybody has experienced is difficult and that has driven me towards the more personal. So the reason I'm talking about family and death and emotion and grief is that everybody knows what these things are whereas if you're talking about a soap opera or a film, not everybody will have seen it.
'Celebrities used to be Paul Newman and Brigitte Bardot and Twiggy whereas now they're somebody who popped up on something once and then they do the thing in the jungle with Ant and Dec. One of the reasons I talk more personally now is that things are so diffuse. It's harder to find the universal.'
For all his grumbling, though, Hardy still loves stand-up. He proceeds to explain what he enjoys so much about performing live. 'I really like the fact that it's not edited or recorded. It can't be turned into anything else. I don't want to produce DVDs.
'I like the fact that my live stuff is there and then it's gone, to be forever misquoted by the people who were there. I also love the fact that it can never be repeated. Each night is a unique experience, a complete one-off.'
Some crowds might go to a stand-up show to have the world put to rights and to leave the venue armed with answers on how to navigate the crazy outside world. He admits his shows might have felt like that once upon a time, but he's now a more reflective and realistic soul.
'I try to do a show that isn't just me banging on about my point of view,' he says. 'I try to let people know that I'm also bewildered about things, that I don't have any solutions and that I'm just trying to make sense of it myself. I think that's the best way to be a comedian because a large part of humour is wrestling with things and having coping strategies. Certainly, I don't know what to think about anything right now but that's partly about getting older and getting less confident in what you think about things.'
Amid all the confusion and bewilderment Jeremy feels he will ultimately still find room to be positive within his show. 'I'm trying to break down the negatives such as the fear of migration and refugees and this siege mentality that has been built up about how we're supposedly under threat. I'll chip away at that in a perky way: there really is a bit of the indefatigable wartime spirit about me.'
It's something that seems to appeal to his very loyal fan-base. 'People are very nice,' he says. 'Sometimes young people come up to me and say, 'My nan loves you'.' But what's annoying is when people ask, 'Where do I know you from?'
'I think, 'You don't know me, but you're excited because you think I might have been on the telly. It wouldn't be as exciting if it turned out you'd stood behind me in the queue at Tescos last Thursday. And it's obviously not exciting enough for you actually to remember me! Rose West has been on the telly. It doesn't make you a good person. Why do you care?''
n Jeremy Hardy is at The Apex, Bury St Edmunds, tomorrow, Colchester Arts Centre on October 14 and Diss Corn Hall on October 20