'Once I embraced my gene pool I found life much more bearable'
Yet his accomplishments are gauzed with insecurity. “You always feel you’re a bit of a chancer as well,” he says, fiddling with the spoon of his decaf skinny latte. “I guess it’s a working-class thing, where I always feel I don’t fit in.”
Ambition wasn’t hereditary
Hughes grew up in Firhouse in Dublin to traffic warden and driving instructor parents. Ambition wasn’t hereditary, but he was driven, deciding at around 12 years old that he wanted to be a comedian. “They [his parents] would just go ‘stop talking nonsense’ and wanted me to work in Superquinn. I’ve got two brothers. One of them won a race, so he was going to be the athlete. My other brother went to business school so he was the brains. They didn’t know where to put me. I had the arrogance to go ‘I’m going to do this’.”
When celebrity followed success, he withdrew, and he also dipped in and out of acting (Coronation Street, The Last Detective). “I was never into being a celebrity, but you get dragged in and find yourself at a do with Dale Winton and think, What the f**k is going on with my life? This isn’t why I did comedy.”
It’s not the best time to be making unconventional comedy. What Hughes describes as “cosy” comedy is booming. Michael McIntyre made €25 million on his last tour. Seven million people watch Mrs Brown’s Boys in the UK. “I completely understand it. I hate this bull***t of ‘in a recession people need to laugh’, that’s nonsense, but it’s like the same reason people watch soap operas: they like to watch the likes of Miranda, Mrs Brown’s Boys, and stand-up from John Bishop because it’s cosy, it’s not going to take them anywhere they don’t want to go, and they can really relax within that. It’s a very narrow-minded look at life, but I can appreciate people really soaking that up.”
Hughes doesn’t say this through gritted teeth. He accepts that mass-market entertainment is consumed at its most diluted, but there is a tone of disappointment in his voice regarding younger comics. He thinks most of the interesting stuff is being done by his generation; Stewart Lee, Mark Thomas, Richard Herring.
“We went into comedy not to make money. The next generation went in to make money.” He stresses the word money. “We’re aware that the connection is much more important. For me, people have lost sight of the fact that comedy is supposed to make people feel good about themselves, not just ‘ha-ha, next one’.”
Hughes did Never Mind the Buzzcocks for six years, but ditched panel shows when he left it in 2002. They’re part of the problem with modern comedy, Hughes says, creating an ugly atmosphere of competition and a ladder-climbing blueprint for young comics. “I love all the guys involved in it, but I cannot stand Mock The Week. I just think it’s disgusting.”