When Roisin Dwyer met him in 2013, the Irishman appeared to be in a good place...
Laconic funnyman Sean Hughes explains how the death of his father inspired his new show and why, the older he gets, the more he enjoys art galleries rather than rock gigs or sessions in the pub
He was the youngest winner of the Perrier comedy award in 1990, helmed the über successful Sean’s Show on Channel Four, team-captained on Never Mind The Buzzcocks for six years and managed to squeeze in a stint as a love rat on Coronation Street. Now Sean Hughes returns to the stage with his best work to date, a show based on the death of his father.
“It’s quite emotional, but not sentimental or mawkish,” he muses relaxing in Dublin’s Westbury hotel. “I’m aware that it has to be funny and once you get all that in place you have to try and take it to one more level. It seems to have worked. The sum of the parts appear to have made it special.”
Hughes’ exploration of the complex father/son dynamic and views on mortality have supplied ample fodder for comedic relief. The show also provided a reconciliation of sorts for the comedian.
“My father was very proud of my success but didn’t get what I was doing,” says Sean. “He wouldn’t have come to see me. If he saw me on The Late Late Show he’d go, ‘He’s fuckin’ brutal’. He loved me for what I was. And that’s why in a sense this show is a joy because he’s helped me write it. So there is this thing of... ‘at last!’”
Given the emotional nature of the material does Sean find the performances draining?
“No, I think I’ve done all my business with my father and I find it quite uplifting in terms of what it can do for other people,” he affirms. “The show is pretty much saying these relationships are precious and we tend to throw them away. This might sound a bit like a Born Again Christian and I don’t want to. However, I’d be delighted if people were able to ring their parents after or reach out. I also want them going out feeling good about themselves. The end is extremely uplifting. I’m very proud of it.”
Mortality is something Sean remains ambivalent about, despite having had a hair-raising brush with death.
“I think Irish people in general are very aware of their own mortality,” he proffers. “I’ve been aware of mine since my first moment of consciousness. Now I’m at that age where, if I had a heart attack, it would be awful. And yet it wouldn’t be a big shock. It’s a nonsense as well because I was in the tsunami and I survived that and yet two days later I was back on the couch watching Neighbours. It wasn’t life-changing. I think one in every four days I wake up remembering that it’s a joy that I have all my faculties.”
One life change Hughes has made in the last couple of years is quitting alcohol, a move he wishes he’d made earlier.
“I feel I’ve done all my drinking. I’m not going to get anything new out of it and I don’t see the point in drinking, I don’t miss it. Some of my friends are in AA and they’re awful to hang out with because it’s just addictive personalities who are swapping one addiction for another. If it works for them, Jesus, I’m really happy.
“I was drinking a lot out of boredom,” he continues. “I thought, ‘You’re not doing this for any sort of fun. I was starting to spiral a little. So I thought I should stop. So I let it spiral a bit more because I knew I was going to stop… but it was getting to the stage where I’d go, ‘Have I got a bit of a cough. I should have a hot whiskey!’”
Sobriety has caused him to re-examine many things, his music taste for one. Hughes remains an avid fan waxing lyrical about recent releases by Spain, King Creosote and Sinéad O’Connor.
“Godspeed You! Black Emperor were always one of my favourite bands. I went to see them recently and I’m there watching them thinking, ‘I don’t know if I like them’,” he admits. “Not drinking is a really good judge of what you don’t like. So now I’m listening to some things thinking, ‘This is shit!’. A friend who writes music for the Guardian took me to see that band Toy who were pretty good. I can appreciate if I was 17 I’d be thinking, ‘Fucking hell, this is amazing!’ I just don’t expect that from a band at my age. I like going to art galleries; I’ve been looking at these all day!” (motioning to the paintings on the wall).
Abstinence has also caused him to re-evaluate his social circle – or perhaps to be re-evaluated!
“The only thing that I can’t stand is that if you’re drinking you’re pretty much an asshole with an alibi,” he notes. “So now, since I don’t drink, if people say, ‘You were an asshole last night.’ I just have to say, ‘Yeah, that’s my personality, we shouldn’t hang out!’”
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