Jeremy Hardy on his new tour, finding humans 'endlessly disappointing' and old friend Jeremy Corbyn
PUBLISHED: 07:00 08 April 2016
Jeremy Hardy has been performing stand-up for the last 32 years and reckons that, without a lottery win, he has another 32 years ahead of him. Not that he minds. Which is good news, as he's about to embark on a major nationwide tour.
The comedian, whose show, Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation, has run for ten series on Radio 4, is chatting to us in the run-up to the tour. He makes for entertaining and acerbic company.
Hardy possesses an appealingly downbeat attitude. For example, he sighs that he can’t be doing with the current fad for box-sets: “Is my life going to change forever because I’ve watched Breaking Wind?
“I find humans endlessly disappointing,” he carries on. “Audiences don’t have to laugh - they just have to turn up and pay. I’m not demanding money from them on Just Giving so I can take a two-week holiday to Barbados in aid of Indigestion Awareness. I just want them to come to the show, especially in places like Basingstoke. Let’s face it, what else are they going to do that night?”
Hitting his miserablist stride now, Hardy adds that he has no time, “For this awful vogue for false cheeriness in comedians. That’s all a bit CBeebies. 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.”
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.”
The comedian, who is also a regular on The News Quiz and I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue on Radio 4 - appearances that led Alan Bennett to remark recently that he likes Hardy, “but he’s only on the radio” - also relishes the fact that his act is never set in stone.
“The great thing about doing a live show is that it keeps evolving,” observes Hardy. “I keep changing and developing it. It won’t be the same at the end of the tour as it was at the beginning. Stand-up is not like other art-forms. When you’ve done a painting and sold it to someone, you can’t keep going round to their house and adding bits. That would be a bit strange. It would also be burglary, not to say criminal damage.”
So what might we expect from Hardy’s new show? He reveals that, “I talk about class, race, identity, Britishness, food, death, health. There are only seven or eight things I ever talk about!”
One thing you can be absolutely sure of is that Hardy will be discussing politics. The subject is as vital to him as breathing. “It would be very hard for me to do a set without mentioning anything about the news,” reflects the comedian. “But I feel it’s not forced coming from me. Politics is part of who I am.
“I actually think it’s weird for comedians not to be political. I think, ‘Why are you standing on stage and not talking about what’s happening in the world?’ When comedians do stuff about their flatmate or football or their mum and dad, it’s fine. But I think increasingly audiences think, ‘Why are you talking about that?’”
But, Hardy adds, “My material always has to be entertaining – and appropriate. I don’t want to be shrill or belittle serious things by doing jokes about them. When horrible things happen, I’m not going to feed off them like a carrion crow. I don’t want to see the world as fodder for my comedy.”
He would also hate his act to be seen as didactic. “Of course, I hope the show resonates and that people think about things in the coming days. But I don’t want people to bring along a notebook so they can jot down the salient points. I want them to be entertained!”
In fact, Hardy says, he is not unrelentingly political. “A lot of the things that I find funny are not political. People imagine I spend my evenings reading huge treatises about the economy, but actually I love Morecambe and Wise.”
For all that, the comedian will not be ignoring one area of current affairs that has been grabbing the headlines lately: migration. “There has been this ridiculous idea that you can freeze the demographics of this country – ‘yes, that’s exactly the mixture we’ve always wanted. That’s it. It’s now going to stay like that forever’.”
He continues that, “People say it’s a small country, but I travel a lot and it’s clearly not. If you’re trying to get from one side of Britain to the other on a Sunday, it’s absolutely enormous. Everywhere you look, there are empty spaces and dilapidated buildings. What’s interesting is that there has been this huge change in people’s attitude to migration recently, which I hope will be ongoing. I’m hoping things will be more positive now.”
Hardy has a very loyal fan-base. “People are very nice,” he comments. “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?’”
Finally, we cannot part without discussing the biggest news of recent times: the election of Hardy’s old friend, Jeremy Corbyn, as the new Labour leader. The comedian echoes the surprise – and delight - felt by many about Corbyn’s sudden rise. “I’ve known Jeremy for 25 years and never for a second did I imagine that he would become leader of the Labour Party – the very idea would have been dismissed as nonsense.
“But now it’s happened, there are a lot of jubilant people around. Even some non-Labour people seem pleased because Jeremy is clearly someone who means what he says and isn’t well-drilled in the art of self-preservation. He’s become a very popular figure. I think we’re in for a jolly time. Of course, there will an enormous backlash against him in the media. But I hope people will just accept that he’s leader now and not try to derail him.”
Hardy goes on to say that, “This is the first time I’ve felt so positive about anything in a long time.” Unable to resist one last gag, he concludes that, “It could be a bloody nightmare for satirists, though. I’ll have to re-train.”
So what would he re-train as? “I’ll have to lecture on comedy at the University of Mirth.”
Further information about Jeremy Hardy’s tour can be found at offthekerb.co.uk or jeremyhardy.co.uk