'Once I embraced my gene pool I found life much more bearable'
He can't stand panel shows and wants all his shows to be uplifting - comedian Sean Hughes might be getting older but compromise doesn't seem to have entered his vocabulary
‘What age are you?” Sean Hughes is talking about getting older – I’m 30 in March. “Is that a big milestone for you? Don’t worry about it – 31 is the weird one. You’ll get a bit of sympathy when you hit 30, then 31, no one gives a f**k. That’s my little tip for you.”
Hughes’s knack for dispensing unsettling consolations is an off-hand one. The sympathy the comedian received for his 30th was Channel 4 broadcasting the Sean Hughes Is Thirty Somehow tour. That was 17 years ago. Three years previous to that, Sean’s Show on Channel 4 was on its way to being nominated for the British Comedy Awards. A sitcom that in many ways encapsulated the surrealism and fecklessness of 1990s comedy, it was broadcast at a time when the comics who broke through the clubs and then on to television were actually alternative. (Hughes’s breakthrough came at the dawn of that decade, when he became the first Irish winner of the Perrier Comedy Award.)
There are bigger sympathies though, namely those offered when his father died, a death which forms the basis of his latest show, Life Becomes Noises. This is a two-hour narrative piece, addressing Hughes’s relationship with his father – an alcoholic – his death, Hughes’s childhood, and his mother, with observational comedy giving way to a script. He did two different shows at the last Edinburgh Fringe because he didn’t want to become the go-to guy for death. But it’s Life Becomes Noises that has altered his outlook. “All of my shows have to be uplifting now. That’s my big change . . . I want people to go out feeling better about themselves.”
The disillusionment Hughes channels into comedy now seems to have a greater purpose: “There’s so much s**t going on in the world, but there’s so much kindness in the world, and I just think I’d rather add to that . . . I think it’s an age thing as well.
“There’s a line from the show, it’s not a funny line, but it’s this thing about once I embraced my gene pool I found my life much more bearable. Before that, I expected too much from things. I wanted more from life. That can be read as giving up, but it’s not. It’s about being much more realistic.” He mentions one of his happiest recent moments: seeing his mother’s joy when he brought her to the church she got married in.
Hughes describes himself as an outsider, a disposition that suits, given its “lone wolf” element. As his achievements clocked up, he never stopped feeling he would get “caught out”. He wrote two novels when “I could have just done an ad and got twice as much money”.