USUALLY the sight of a punter leaving early would reflect badly on the comedian standing at the microphone – but not when they are being forcibly removed by police for provoking a fight by laughing too loudly.
That was the fate of one woman who went along to see popular TV and radio comic Jeremy Hardy, who travels to the islands for a stand-up show next week, in Staffordshire earlier this year.
The 53 year old, who has written and appeared in numerous TV, radio and film productions during more than 30 years in the comedy business, will showcase his current affairs-inflected humour at the Royal British Legion in Lerwick on Tuesday 14 July.
Last year saw him clock up a tenth season of much-loved Radio 4 show ‘Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation’, while he is also renowned for appearances on ‘The News Quiz’ and ‘I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue’.
Next week’s trip sees him travelling into the unknown: until now Nairn is the furthest north he has ventured, but Hardy told Shetland News he has wanted to see more of the Highlands and Islands for a long time.
“It’s just five dates, so I’ll only be scratching the surface,” he said, “but I’ve always wanted to go up and see Shetland. I always thought it’d be a nice thing, especially in the summer when it’s light.
“I probably won’t have time to get on top of what’s happening in the Highlands and Islands because I’ll be arriving in Inverness and going straight into the first gig in Elgin.
“But people know what’s going on in their own communities and they don’t really need me to tell them. Mark Steel [who performed his ‘Mark Steel’s In Town show at Mareel in March] has got that kind of thing covered.”
Much like Steel, he is known for his left-wing values. As one journalist put it, in an ideal world Hardy would be more famous – but “an ideal world would leave him without most of his best material”.
Anyone hankering after stand-up pyrotechnics will be disappointed – it’s “just me talking about stuff” – but if witty, intelligent humour underpinned by strong socialist ideals is your thing, Hardy is the man for you.
“The first half tends to be more political and the second half tends to be a bit more reflective, a bit more personal,” he says.
Performing in Scotland around the time of the independence referendum, he found people were “very divided, and you realise there’s a tension in the audience”.
“When I was in Glasgow, I introduced two friends who didn’t know each other, and they ended up having this huge shouting match in the bar, which was a bit awkward, and I had to try and calm it down.”
As an Englishman of the left, how does he feel about the desire of many in Scotland for independence, something which has anything but dissipated since September’s 55-45 No vote?
“It would be a sadness to me to be separate countries, but I can see why Scottish people would want to do that because they’re politically very out step with what’s happening at Westminster.
“England is very divided now – north to the left, the rest to the right – but obviously there’s more of a left bias in Scotland and I can see why people would think ‘let’s start from scratch’.
“I think it would be bad for England, it would leave us English lefties even more isolated. I think England is going to go on some horrible search for English nationalism, which is not going to be good, and I think it’d be weird for Wales as well.”
Hardy is not known for being overly affectionate towards the royal family. He once addressed the topic of “parasites” on a comedy show by talking about the Windsors, while at the time of Prince William and Kate Middleton’s marriage he hoped “they had the decency to print ‘We already have everything we need – to put it mildly’” on their wedding invitations.
So how does he feel about performing in a room with a painting of Queen Elizabeth hanging on the wall? “That’ll be a new one for me! I’m not going to bow, but I won’t deface it…”
The world of stand-up is “much more professional” now than when he – along with the likes of Steel, Paul Merton, Rory Bremner, Mark Thomas and Harry Enfield – was starting out in the eighties.
“It was this whole new way of doing comedy, everything was new and fresh. It was like the aftermath of punk, you had punk poets like John Cooper Clarke, then you had alternative comedy, and it was in the wake of a lot of that.
“It felt like a somewhat underground thing, whereas now people are giving up careers in the oil industry and banking to become stand-up comics! You can become a multimillionaire in a couple of years, and playing at the O2 Arena. It was a daft thing to do when I started.”
Hardy regularly works on various political campaigns. Last year he was involved with Show Racism the Red Card, and he is currently helping the Helen Bamber Foundation – set up to support victims of things like human trafficking – to raise funds.
- Jeremy Hardy performs live at the Royal British Legion in Lerwick on Tuesday 14 July. Tickets, priced £14, are available from Shetland Box Office. Discounted tickets for students, unemployed and disabled people are available in person at Islesburgh or Mareel.
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