Interview with Sean Hughes | Life Becomes Noises
Following an extensive tour and a critically acclaimed Edinburgh run, the 'feel good show of the year', Sean Hughes’s Life Becomes Noises comes to Dublin’s Vicar St.on 21st of February. Aoife Ryan sat down with Hughes ahead of his return to the Dublin stage.
What do you hope to reveal in the show? How would you sum it up if possible?
I couldn't sum it up but it's based on my father's death, and that's the starting point. It's a comedy about how we take death too seriously. I hate using the word stories because it makes me sound like an aul fella but there are lots of stories about my father and his death in the show. I use a lot of props too. There's a touch screen, some puppets, dancing, costumes, a set. There's a narrative but I couldn't really sum it up. The only thing I will promise is no sentimentality and it has to be uplifting, that was my benchmark from the start.
You've said you don't want the word 'cathartic' mentioned in reference to the show, why is this?
Sometimes a show can be cathartic for people watching it but it's not cathartic for me. There no resolution at the end of the show, there's no happy ending which would make it cathartic. It is grounding for me, like there are little details that help keep me grounded such as wearing my father's slippers during the show.
How has working on something as personal as your latest stage show been and is it more rewarding because it is so close to your personal and family life?
I've always gone this way but I think for this one but it's different in that it's gone a bit deeper. Not just about my life, everyone has parents so it's not unique to me but with this show I haven't been afraid to be serious. At first I was very nervous, all fingers and thumbs, because it's a heavy topic and it's hard to approach it but now I've done the material and I'm confident with it. I really enjoy doing the show so it's fine now because I now know what works and it has never failed so sometimes people might wonder how come I'm so relaxed but I had to earn that.
You talk a lot about how people handle sickness and things such as hospital rooms a lot in the show. What did you learn?
I've said a few times now that they should make cancer wards like children's wards, colourful and enjoyable. If it's going to be your last hours why make it miserable? It is like Shakespeare's seven ages of man where you become an infant again. I mean my Dad was bring fed and was wetting himself so give them the innocence of that time too. When I think of the innovations in medicine I can't help think, a bit of bright paint wouldn't go amiss either. The sadness comes in when you realise that the person you loves is no longer interested in what they used to be mad about. My Dad was mad about horse racing and towards the end he lost that. That's how I knew it was nearing the end really.
Would you consider yourself something of an outsider considering you moved to Ireland at an early age and felt you stuck out, but then returned to England to presumably be considered quite Irish? Also, your parents had a very different attitude towards life in terms of religion and that generation's ties to the church.
I'm totally an outsider, not by choice. I was born in London and came to Dublin aged five. I had two changes of school before I was eight. And yeah my parents were quite religious so at first I went with that when I was younger. I'm quite a passionate person so I tend to go full force with things, and so I did toy about becoming a priest. That's all I knew so I thought I'd go into that but then I quickly learned there's more to life. I wish more people would throw themselves into what they want to do.
Do you think all comedians must have serious lows as well as highs?
I think everyone does. I think comedians are more intense but it's the same feelings that everyone gets. The highs from being on stage are phenomenal and it is better than any drug I've ever taken. But it's a natural high same as the one you would get from running. The mistake is when you take drink or drugs on top of this natural high when you don't actually need any boost; it's a waste of that precious natural high.
You've written prose and poetry. Do you think there's a strong link between writing for a live comedy performance and these other forms of writing?
Stand up's quite an immediate reaction whereas when you're writing a book you are pretty much writing for six months without knowing who is going to think what of it. What I really enjoyed about this show was it has a narrative. I won't ever do a stand up show with just a bunch of gags in them anymore because I'd rather just do a play then. Live is so much better than anything. It's the same for football and bands too, nothing beats the live experience. So when comedy writers get it right, stand up can be the best form.
Would you consider writing more in the future?
I feel I've got my mojo back so yeah I do think I'll want to do more. There's prose in this show, including a dramatic letter written by my dad. I'm at that age though where I don't want to take any shit from dickheads [...} I wrote a piece for the metro, a really poetic piece that I was hoping they'd love. But then it got to the editor and heads of the paper and it wasn't what they wanted. They were going to cut and paste it when she said no I'll pull it rather than let them butcher it. So I thought that was really nice that she wanted to maintain the integrity of the piece and she made sure I was paid anyway even though it wasn't published. People don't know what they want anymore, it's like TV nowadays. They think such and such is popular so we'll do more of that. Maybe it's popular because that's all we've been given. Nobody thinks outside the box. When I started Never Mind the Buzzcocks it was one of the first panel shows and now there's so many. Buzzcocks was quite exciting, it was one of the first panel shows and it was based on music which I'm really passionate about. But quickly you realised it wasn't about music really and, I'm not knocking it but we were kind of doing the same joke every week. I've done that so let someone else do it now.
What have been the most memorable most of this tour so far?
There have been lots of fun times. In Wickham nobody told us there was going to be a forty foot Christmas tree in the middle of the stage. Now, on our set we have a hospital bed and so when I went on I noticed the audience was giving me much more lip than usual because they were wondering why this comedian was ignoring this massive tree beside him so I ended up having to talk about the bloody tree a lot for it to make sense. I can deal with hecklers but this is a strange show to be heckled at because of the subject at hand.
I'm looking forward to doing this show in Dublin because this is where my Dad is buried. It's relevant everywhere else material wise because everyone has parents but for me this one is special. This one's for him. I'm not going to dedicate it to him or any crap like that but I know his spirit will be there.
Do you get many strange heckles?
Yeah and some can't even be classified as heckles. Yorkshire people love to talk so you do get strange dialogue there. It's hard to explain if you haven't seen the show but somebody got up while I was telling a particular story and said ' you know I think you'll find there's no vat on bread' in relation to what I had just been talking about . They think they're being helpful and don't realise it's all part of the joke and story, and that in that case he had ruined the next upcoming bit.
What do your family make of the show?
They're all very proud. They've all read it and obviously it's an odd one but they know this is how I'm dealing with it. I don't think I'd feel comfortable if someone was talking about my dad it's an odd one, but they've been very supportive.
Why did you take a break from comedy?
I've always felt very natural on stage but there are moments when you wonder what the point is because I'm not really motivated by finances so it's just waiting for things I really want to do. I think I got lost for a bit but sometimes you just need to stop and live to have things to even talk about otherwise you end up talking about the same things like your childhood. Like Billy Connolly still talks about working on the shipyards and you think, you've already done this. I think Billy is great by the way but he hasn't been a normal person has been for a long time so it's quite hard to have material.
Who are your favourite comedians?
There are a lot of dead ones. Lenny Bruce is very important. I think Richard Pryor is still my favourite. He was just himself and I found that amazing.
So what are your plans for the next while?
The plan is to tour as much as I can right now. I'm one of those acts that love ad-libbing so though I have to stay within the narrative but fun things happen when you allow yourself to do it. You have to be careful though because become trance like and get in a hole talking about something else and then find it hard to get back to the main topic .Sometimes the audience is loving something you've just ad-libbed and they want you to do more of that. A few times the newspapers have critiqued me for going back to the narrative. I think if the audience is paying they deserve a once off show every night
I'll still do these when I have something to say and people will turn up but I'll never do a stadium because you just lose the intimacy. It's so different this generation to my earlier days in comedy. Now there's a lot of money involved. My generation didn't do comedy for money they did it out of love whereas this generation are doing it to make a lot of money. I don't want to sound like one of those old footballers complaining about what he got but with this generation it has got ridiculous. In a small gig it's a unique experience whereas a large one is really just a screen and it becomes an event. Everyone loves an event and wants to go to one every so often but it's not the same as a more intimate gig.
Sean Hughes: Life Becomes Noises is live at Vicar Street on Saturday February 21st. Tickets from €25 are on sale now.
Story by EI Team | 09:00 | Tuesday 22nd January 2013 | Comedy
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