Ipswich: Regent-bound comedian Harry Hill interviewed

Comedian Harry Hill comes to the Ipswich Regent this March.

Comedian Harry Hill comes to the Ipswich Regent this March.

Harry Hill has not done a live stand-up tour for six years, but the comedian is now back on the road. It’s been well worth the wait, he’s funnier than ever says JAMES RAMPTON.

Expect proof God exists, a section exclusively for Tongans, Stouffer the Cat and more

Expect proof God exists, a section exclusively for Tongans, Stouffer the Cat and more

PROOF God exists, a section exclusively for Tongans, a summary of his Nan’s latest ailments, Stouffer the Cat and a debut solo stand-up spot to Gary, Harry’s son from his first marriage and best known for his role as Alan Sugar in TV Burp, show band The Harrys, the expert whistler-of-chart-hits grandson Sam, oh and a giant sausage. What’s not to like?

Harry Hill and Heather, aka actor Steve Benham. Hill says it was the right time to leave TV Burp

Harry Hill and Heather, aka actor Steve Benham. Hill says it was the right time to leave TV Burp - Credit: PA

So what other delights might we expect in Sausage Time Live, Harry’s first stand-up show since Hooves in 2007? One thing we should anticipate above all else is a wonderful sense of silliness.

Sporting his trademark look of gleaming bald pate, thick spectacles, big-collared white shirt and dark suit, complete with a top pocket stuffed with pens and lapels lined with badges, Harry is tucking into a quiche and salad at a south London arts centre in the run-up to the tour.

Crackling with charisma, he is a rare example of a comedian who is just as charming and funny offstage as on it. An hour in his presence simply flies by.

Harry, whose TV Burp on ITV1 has been described by Peter Kay as “The only thing on TV that actually makes me laugh out loud”, begins by declaring: “There’s never a serious agenda to my comedy. I use a lot of slapstick and a lot of silly wordplay and puns. The show doesn’t have an overall theme. It’s just a load of silly stuff.”

And it’s all the better for that.

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The comedian has been doing lots of warm-up shows and has relished the experience of performing live once again.

“I’ve loved it. It gives you such a buzz. Hearing laughter is such an exciting feeling.”

Harry adds that, after the long-winded process of making TV shows, stand-up offers you freedom.

“When you do a TV show, there is a very long time between writing a joke and getting a laugh. You have to write a script, have meetings, explain to the producer why it’s funny and shouldn’t be cut and explain to the prop maker what the prop should look like.

“Then you turn up and the prop is wrong. The new prop turns up just ten minutes before filming, but even though it gets a laugh, the producer still wants to cut it. It’s such a laborious process.”

On the other hand, he continues: “Stand-up is so immediate. You can have an idea in the morning and get a laugh for it in the evening. No one else can tell you what to do, apart from the audience. The audience is the ultimate arbiter.”

The comedian, who gave up his career as a doctor to concentrate on stand-up two decades ago, describes the natural high performing live comedy gives him as, at its best, like a car race.

“You’re driving along and accelerating as the audience is laughing. It gets to the point where you’re on such a roll that almost anything you say is funny. You’re not even thinking about it. It’s just automatic.

“It’s like you’re constantly changing up a gear. You can even stop suddenly and then speed off again. It’s like you’re driving the audience. It’s an amazing feeling of power. You can understand why some performers go off the rails.”

Harry, who bowed out at the top by ending TV Burp in 2012 after 11 years on screen says for that period when you’re on stage, everything else has gone and you’re completely living in the moment.

“That’s what you’re aiming for in life, to be absolutely in the moment. You’re not worried about the future or the past. It’s quite difficult to achieve. It’s the same effect as meditation or Class A drugs – probably!”

Touring with Sausage Time Live sees Harry return to his roots.

“Stand-up is what I’ve always wanted to do. It’s what I gave up medicine to do all those years ago. It is the bedrock of everything I do.”

The comedian, who has won multiple BAFTA and British Comedy Awards, goes on to reveal one of the major ideas that will run through the new show.

“I have a whole shtick about Broken Britain. It’s a micky-take of Middle-England paranoia. I pick on someone in the audience and accuse them of putting their rubbish in their neighbour’s wheelie bin. I get really angry about it.

“Then I accuse someone else of throwing away a coffee cup without disposing of the grounds first. I extrapolate the consequences of their actions, which are that a baby ends up on a ventilator. By the end of the show, I’ve completely lost my rag!

“We’re paranoid about this country falling apart because it is, but there’s nothing we can do about it. It’s finally caught up with us. I’m not saying why. I’m just taking the micky out of that overreaction. I get furious with the audience for their misdemeanours because there is something really funny about people getting angry over something so trivial.

“We’re obsessed with dividing up our rubbish and putting it in different bags. That’s so annoying. In one local borough, they distribute plastic bags for you to put your recycled rubbish into. Any system that relies on plastic bags for recycling is obviously flawed.”

The comic, who is married with three daughters, has been away from stand-up for a long time.

“TV Burp took up so much of my time. I wanted to tour, but I couldn’t do it to my family. Even when I was at home, I was having to watch TV all the time and was mentally somewhere else.”

Why give up TV Burp?

“I felt we were getting disinterested, which is the kiss of death. It was a great stress watching TV for hours and hours each week. You can do that for six weeks, but not for weeks on end.

“Also over an 11-year period, we felt we’d done all the jokes we could do about every single show. How many more jokes are there to make about EastEnders? By the end, pseudo-documentaries like The Only Way Is Essex were doing the jokes for us.”

Harry decided to quit while he was ahead.

“I thought ‘we’d better get out now’. By then, no amount of money could have persuaded me to stay. On our final show, we had a knitted character, Wagbo and Heather’s death on EastEnders, which was a complete gift for us. I thought ‘It won’t get any better than this’.

“At the end of that last show, all the production team were crying but I went back to my dressing and felt like a weight had been lifted. The closest equivalent was when I gave up medicine. When I drove out of Ashford Hospital for the last time, I had this great feeling of euphoria. I still feel that – I’m not missing TV Burp in the slightest.”

He admits some audience members come along to Sausage Time Live thinking it’s going to be TV Burp Live, but it’s not.

“I wouldn’t give in to that pressure. It’s a slippery slope when you start giving people what you think they want. You end up popular and wealthy and we wouldn’t want that.”

Harry closes by underlining how much he is revelling in being back on the live stage.

“I love it, and the audiences so far seem to be loving it, too. They particularly love slapstick. It’s in our DNA. It’s a childlike thing. Why do people really enjoy You Been Framed when it’s the same thing every week?

“I’ve done it for a long time now and I think it’s funnier now I’m older. It’s more incongruous and humiliating. The older you are, and the higher your status, the less likely you are to be rolling around on the floor with a giant sausage.”

Bet you can’t wait to see that.

Harry Hill’s Sausage Time Live tour comes to the Ipswich Regent on March 9, 2013.