Interview: Steve Hughes
Steve Hughes is sick of towing the line. “I’m apparently not allowed to have opinions anymore because it’s not politically correct and everyone is equal,” groans the Australian comic, now famous for his political satire. “But not everyone is fucking equal and not everyone is the same.”
In a typically forthright interview, Hughes talks to Giggle Beats about the problem with mainstream comedy, his love/hate relationship with America and why the UK has welcomed him with open arms. Grab a cuppa, it’s a long one.
DC: Hey Steve. How’s the tour been going so far?
SH: It’s been killer actually; the second run has been selling well. Audiences have been good and people are laughing…which is always a plus. I’ll be playing at The Stand again on the 26th. I played there last time when I did my first tour and it was excellent; it’s a good room.
DC: Can you tell me a bit about the show [Big Issues] and how it came together?
SH: Well it’s changed a bit since the last tour. I’ve shortened it as I felt I was trying to pack too much material into the amount of time I had. I worked out that once you go past an hour-fifteen the audience really starts to get tired. So I cut it down to a suitable length and now it feels perfect. It goes down a lot better than when I used to cram too much in. I’d be having a good gig and then suddenly people wouldn’t be laughing anymore and I’d think, ‘What have I done wrong?!’ Then I’d remember these poor guys have been sitting here for nearly two hours and half them just want to have a piss and go home.
I’m really happy with the show now and I’ve added some new stuff in there too. It’s hard not to add new material when you do a lot of social commentary – stuff keeps happening and I want to talk about it.
I chopped a fair bit but it felt quite organic really and the show has moulded itself into quite a nice shape now. That’s what’s interesting about making shows or even albums. You listen to it back months later and just think ‘Awh Fuck! Why did I do that? Why didn’t I move that bit there?’ But that’s every artist’s hassle really. I’m sure every filmmaker watches back their movies and cringe at parts.
DC: It’s good that comedians have the luxury to go back and make those changes…
SH: Yeah! Well, some comedians don’t bother but you have to really; I’d get sick of doing the same god-damn jokes all the time. My comedy is weird though; sometimes I think about writing a whole new show to cover a certain topic but then it becomes too close to spoken word. Once I concentrate too much on one topic I end up writing a lot of jokes that tie into my older material. I’ve always got to balance it and try not to repeat myself.
I constantly keep asking myself if what I’m writing is still relevant. I want to write a new show about topics I’m currently interested in but at the moment these are the topics that I’m already touching on in this show. Plus I’m always on the road lately so it’s quite difficult to write a new show…
DC: Being so political, do you feel you’re under more pressure to keep your material current?
SH: I wouldn’t say I’m under more pressure simply because I enjoy doing it. Also some of the stuff I want to talk about in respect to my comedy is nowhere near suitable for my show. I only scrape the surface of what’s really going on in this conspiracy theory world. I don’t know how to even write material about some of the seriously twisted shit that happens on this planet.
I keep trying to figure out how I can make the show more intense and more full on without just turning it into a horrifying lecture. It can be very difficult to squeeze in a joke about biological warfare… but I’m working on it! Give me time and I’ll crack it eventually.
There are people who mix the smallpox virus with the black plague and stick it into the head of missiles and apparently they’re geniuses. I’m just thinking, ‘What?! This guy put the black plague into the head of an already nuclear warhead. Who’s he doing this for, and why is he doing it?’
Oh and why aren’t we allowed to have an opinion about it? Who does he want to drop this on? Surely no one is that fucking horrible.
I don’t care about that argument anymore, where it’s all ‘only a deterrent’. All these smaller countries could never get a hold of these weapons anyway. America has always used this excuse, but in all seriousness who could possibly get them now?! Even if every single person in Cuba attacked the United States that still wouldn’t be enough. They’d be lucky if they could even take control of Texas.
They always fall back on the excuse that ‘we just have them as a deterrent so that this sort of thing never happens’ Well, why should I trust you? They keep telling me places like Iran are the enemy yet they don’t seem to have attacked anyone in the time I’ve been alive on the Earth. The United States has attacked nearly 100 different countries since 1945! Don’t tell me Iran is a threat to the United States and all her allies. If Iran ever did drop a nuke they would be exterminated by America in under an hour.
I try to get people involved with this kind of stuff before my style of comedy becomes illegal.
DC: I’ve seen a lot of inexperienced comics try this kind of approach and fail. How’d you make it work?
SH: It gets easier as you get better at comedy. A lot of the younger guys who like to do this stuff ask me how to do it. I think I spent many years when I was starting out just ranting when I should have been doing comedy. This would result in people just staring at me and thinking ‘What the fuck is wrong with this bloke?’ So you’ve got to go through that part and be prepared to strike out sometimes in order to get good at it. Maybe there was something wrong with me because that never bothered me. Actually, there is something wrong with me – I’m a comedian.
DC: It’s all part of the job I suppose…
SH: Fuck yeah! A bit of trauma is always good for art. If everything was perfect and you were happy and content just laying around you’d do nothing else. Why would you bother?
DC: What informed your decision to tackle the comedy scene in the UK as apposed to America?
SH: I just preferred the comedy culture here mainly. America has always been this huge thing to crack. It’s a different landscape when it comes to the business side of it. It’s just too massive; plus I think that country is headed towards one big nightmare. I do like Americans though – I must admit – and I am intrigued sometimes to give it a go. People have always recommended I play in Austin, Texas but who knows if that will ever happen.
DC: Do you feel Australia has made any significant progress in developing their comedy scene in the time you’ve been away?
SH: Well it’s gotten a lot better by introducing more shows like the Melbourne International Comedy Festival and so forth. I think the influx of these festivals and the overseas comics it has attracted has definitely helped Australia develop more of an understanding of stand-up comedy.
I think there are still areas where it will always be lacking; they just can’t get it going like we can over here. The size of the country and the lack of people is always going to hold Australia back. There is also that certain ‘outdoors-ee’ culture that’s inherent to their living. England on the other hand just seems to have comedy ingrained into its psyche.
DC: And Australia has sport ingrained into theirs?
SH: Exactly. In England there are comedy gigs everywhere – and they sell out. There might be some gig in a small church hall somewhere every Sunday night; does it sell? Of course it does because this is England!
English people just have a nose for finding comedy. If they go to Australia they find it within the first week. They unpack their bags and say ‘Right…Where the fuck is the comedy?’
Australia has taken to me quite well now though. I think England has given them permission to like me; which has always been the way. It just always comes down to that landscape issue for me. There is actually only a certain amount of work you can do realistically. But it’s starting to work now; it’s just that bastard twenty-two hour flight…
DC: Who are you watching at the moment then?
SH: Despite what I’ve said about America I do actually like a lot of American comedians. I really like Bill Burr at the moment. He is so American it’s unbelievable. He’s always hinting that he knows more about alternative histories, conspiracy theories and stuff like that. He knows the world is fucked up. He’s also a bit of a nutcase, which is perfect! I’ve got to meet that maniac at some point. I’m also very fond of Louis C.K. and Doug Stanhope.
I like Alan Car as well, but coming from the heavy metal world I think I’ve always preferred comedy where people are ranting about stuff. It’s got to be real and full on. I like my art like that – when there is something worth saying. I don’t know how I could go on if I was only doing ‘jokey-jokes’ about stupid things; I’d feel like a waste of space.
When you watch people like Bill Hicks you knew they were serious but also funny as fuck. I didn’t even see Bill’s stuff until after he’d passed but once I did I knew that’s how comedy should be. I think the world is starting to wake up to the more serious side of comedy. It if wasn’t I suppose my style wouldn’t be selling tickets really.
That is unless you’re not a complete mainstream retard. When I was coming off heavy metal and first performing comedy to normal people I used to think that was mainstream. I know a few famous comedians now and they keep telling me how the gigs are getting worse and I tell them that’s because they’re now in the super mainstream. I discovered there could actually be a super duper mainstream. These are the audiences that don’t do anything they’re not told. They’ll be familiar with Michael McIntyre and Jack Dee but little else.
That’s why comedy is quite popular at the moment – because of shows like these. Don’t get me wrong, there isn’t anything wrong with seeing Michael McIntyre; I think he’s a really funny, a nice guy and he’s always been good to me. But he is massive, so it’s very mainstream stuff. The problem is when you’re that huge families come to see you. Rhod Gilbert is also huge and he said to me that he was finding it difficult to make his shows appeal to such a massive mainstream family audience.
Rhod may not be particularly controversial but he can be quite surreal and he said that during his shows his audience wouldn’t even get that! These are not imaginative people. I’m told I’m apparently not allowed to have opinions like this anymore because it’s ‘un-PC’ and ‘everyone is equal’ but not everyone is fucking equal and not everyone is the same.
There are different intelligences. I’m not saying that someone who doesn’t like anything controversial or anything that could be considered art is somehow a stupid person. What I’m saying is there can be some very unimaginative people out there. However, these people may be better at emotional intelligence. Look at me, I’m 46 and I’ve only had a girlfriend for three months because I’m a bit of an emotional retard.
There are different intelligences for different people. For me, doing comedy shows for these unimaginative people can be a fucking chore.
DC: Finally then, any plans after the tour?
SH: I’m going to go back to Australia and do a massive tour. I’m taking my girlfriend along so she can see what it’s like to date a touring comedian. I’d imagine people will ask her, “Where’s your boyfriend?’ and she can only reply, “I don’t know… I haven’t seen him in six weeks.” So that’s starting in February and I’m also going to New Zealand too. I’m really looking forward to it. Touring with Reggie [D Hunter] helped me a lot and now I’m touring by myself; it’s keeping me busy. Britain has given Australia permission to like me so it will feel good to be back.
Steve Hughes is currently touring venues across the UK, including an extra date at The Library, Leeds, on Wednesday 5th December. For details, see: ents24.com