Interview: Jeremy Hardy

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Stand-up Jeremy Hardy spends a lot of time on the road and is on tour again. He spoke to Yvette Huddleston ahead of his appearance in Leeds next week.

As an unapologetically political comedian and eloquent spokesperson for those of a left-leaning persuasion, Jeremy Hardy has stuck to his principles – and his stand-up roots – since first making his name on the alternative comedy circuit in the 1980s. His humour is astute and well-informed and he’s never afraid to voice an opinion.

Unlike many of his peers who have mostly moved on to appearing on TV panel shows in between the occasional big-arena tour, Hardy prefers radio and still spends much of his time on the road, appearing at smaller venues up and down the country – he stops off in Leeds next week. “I think of stand-up as my real job,” he says. “And it’s what I have always come back to.”

His route into it was, the way he tells it, relatively straightforward. “There were all sorts of things I had wanted to do when I was growing up,” he says. “I wanted to be an actor for a while – I had been in lots of plays when I was at school. Then I settled on the idea of being a writer. I spoke to writers who were doing gigs and they told me that I could do open mic spots at comedy clubs. In those days you could get on the next day and then have your own gig in a month. It was quite a nice time.

“Once I started doing it, it was a revelation to me. I thought I would give it a year and see how it went and if I could make a living from it. I came unstuck a few times, but it seemed to go pretty well and I just thought ‘I will keep doing this’.”

He’s been touring for a few weeks when we speak and he says that his show has been evolving during the course of the tour. Since his material is so topical it means that extra material is added in from time to time depending on what is happening. Plus there has been a General Election to take into consideration. “I keep fiddling with the show as I go along,” he says. “I also accrue material and I have new ideas, so the show is always changing. I put a whole load of new stuff and then gradually I have to start to whittle it down a bit. As new things happen I am loath to let anything go but sometimes I just have to get rid of a whole section.” He admits that cutting material can be quite painful. “It is very difficult. Sometimes you are holding on to a section and you realise ‘actually there is only one point to that and I don’t need to take that long to get there’. But things make their way back in again.”

He likens it to being a musician on tour balancing playing their 
well-known hits with newer songs – and it keeps things fresh. “There is often a lot more stuff going on in my head than the audience will appreciate,” he says, adding deadpan. “But obviously I try and work it all out before I go on stage.”

When he’s not on the road doing his stand-up, Hardy spends much of his time on the radio. He is a regular on two of the most popular shows on Radio 4 – The News Quiz and the national institution that is I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue with old hands Barry Cryer, Graeme Garden and Tim Brooke-Taylor. “I have been doing Clue for about 25 years now but I am still treated very much like the new boy. I used to listen to it when I was a teenager so it is nice to have become part of something that was a legend.” He says that the fact that radio is “entirely based on words” is what appeals to him about the medium. “It doesn’t matter what you are wearing and it doesn’t matter whether you are pulling a stupid face,” he says. He has also done ten series of Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation. “It’s not based on the news more around themes. Not long ago I started writing a programme for it and I thought ‘this is coming easily’ and then I suddenly realised it was something I’d written before.”

Companionship and working with other people is another plus point of radio. “Stand-up is a lonely thing to do,” he says. “A lot of people aren’t suited to it for that reason, but I am so used to it now. I am very at home sitting in a dressing room in a place I have never been before. And there is always the huge adrenalin rush of performing.”

Jeremy Hardy is appearing at Leeds City Varieties on May 29.