It’s been more than a decade since Lee Hurst took his comedy on the road – but he’s not worried, he tells Brian Donaldson.
WHATEVER happened to Lee Hurst? It’s a question that some comedy fans might have asked given that the former panellist on They Think It’s All Over hasn’t performed a full tour for a decade.
He did dip his toes into the live waters with a series of shows last year entitled Man Vs Woman and he’s been rather busy running his own comedy club in London, but those who keep a keen eye on the touring circuit might consider him to have been out of the spotlight.
Well, now he’s back with a tour entitled Too Scared To Leave The House which aims to tackle the things that frighten us – “It could be about literally anything from global disasters to spiders to fear of dying or relationships: anything you can think of that bothers you.”
In terms of the new show’s format, Hurst has reflected back to the structure of Man Vs Woman, in which he knocked around some topical stand-up in the first half before launching into the concept for part two. Albeit his format was forced upon him.
Hurst might be a keen fact-checker, but that doesn’t mean he would never leave his homework on the bus . . .
“With Man Vs Woman, I had a bit of a debacle when I lost all the notes so I had to change it into something entirely different,” he says.
“I had stuff in my head but not enough to sustain it for a whole second half so I changed it to get the men in the audience writing something down about women and vice versa.
“I won’t say it was a stroke of genius, it was a necessity, but it was so much fun. Whenever I got an audience to write questions before, if you give them too broad a subject, they can’t think, but Man Vs Woman had them focussed.”
Hurst is someone who has always done things a little differently. Shunning the usual route of ploughing every last penny into an annual jaunt to Edinburgh in August (“I just stayed in London and cleaned up because all the comics had gone there”), he made his breakthrough as the warm-up act for the Have I Got News For You? audience.
That led to appearances on that show which led into showing off his sharp wit on BBC sports quiz They Think It’s All Over, sparring with people such as Gary Lineker, Rory McGrath and David Gower for six seasons.
While the format for the current comedy scene seems to be inherently set up for the skinny-jeaned, skinny-haired young male comedian, Hurst is gratified to see some of the old school “90s comedians” back on the touring circuit again.
Alan Davies has just emerged from a successful Edinburgh and plunged into a nationwide tour while Jack Dee and Harry Hill are both back doing live work.
“I was doing a set in the West End recently and Jack Dee turned up to do five minutes and he had some lovely stuff,” he says.
“Harry Hill did one of the last nights of my old club and he was as nervous as hell, pacing up and down, pacing up and down.
“The other acts were on and you could hear this hollow sound of his boots: boom, boom boom. And he said to me, ‘why do we do it, why do we do it?’ Well, he went on and tore the place up and as he came off I said, ‘that’s why we do it’.”
Hurst, though, isn’t quite so sure about the motives of the new comics, many of whom he would have encountered in the Backyard’s previous incarnation.
“For the guys who are at the top of the tree now, comedy is mega-massive. But at the bottom it’s tougher because the money is being taken away from the smaller clubs and into these arena gigs. It’s gone a little bit pop-industry, the managements are all after ‘a look’ and the first thing they do is get a comedian some writers. I’m a bit of an old-fashioned purist: if you write your own material, you’re a stand-up comic; if you’ve got writers, then you’re an actor.
“My attitude is that if it came to the point where I couldn’t write anymore it would be time to step aside and let others have a go.”
Rather than worrying about the motives of the younger comedy generation, Hurst has had plenty of concerns closer to home.
His health for one thing. He suffers from a form of arthritis called ankylosing spondylitis.
‘There is a gene involved (HLAB27 apparently) but I’m the only one in the family who’s had this,” he says.
“It affects the sleep mainly; once I’m up with these niggles, I can’t get back to sleep, so I exist on a greatly reduced amount of sleep.
“That’s the worst part of it, as it leaves me short-tempered and I haven’t got the patience for fools so what I tend to do is avoid people when I know I’m irritable, so that way I’m the only fool in town.”
LEE HURST is at The Brindley, Runcorn, on January 31.