When did you decide the death of your father from cancer would be the topic for your show?
I always try to write about what’s happening. I tend to be quite cynical in my outlook but I wanted to do “an uplifting show about death”. I decided a couple of years ago to do it, because a lot of thoughts were about my father’s impending death, and you can’t touch on stuff like that in a 20-minute set.
It’s a surprising topic for comedy…
Death is part of the of the whole life cycle and so is as valid as anything else to talk about.
You mention how little money is spent on cancer research by the government.
Yes, but I don’t want to bamboozle people with facts. I was shocked, though, that the government relies on industry and charity to do most of that. Everyone’s affected by cancer and I found it odd so little money is spent on it. One of the things about the sense of loss is that you don’t think people are doing enough about it.
How have people responded to it?
You don’t need to be obsessed with death or know someone who has died recently to get something out of the show. People who still have parents tend to, and I am happy about this, think: “I should hang out with them a little bit more”. I had some friends come to one of the shows. One of them, whose father had died last year, was still keeping hold of a bedsit her father used to live in and her reaction was that it was probably about time that she let go of that now. I like the fact that this show brings up an internal monologue within people.
Is performing the show cathartic?
In a way, but that wasn’t the reason for doing it – to work through my emotions. It wanted to use it as a springboard for discussing these sort of things.
Is it difficult balancing emotion and comedy, because there are some touching moments, like when you talk about connecting with your dad?
That bit is quite sad, but the philosophy of the show is to grab every moment, which is an impossible way to live your life, really. But I’ve always said, ‘don’t waste time watching day-time TV when you could be doing something more useful with your life’.
Has it been a difficult show to perform?
It has been in a sense that there are a lot of emotions in there, but I don’t think I’ll ever have the Daniel Day Lewis moment, like when he walked off stage doing Hamlet because he thought he was talking to his own late father.
Where did the idea come from to incorporate more performance elements in to the show, such as the puppets and the stage props?
I just think about the best way to articulate an idea and so I looked at different ways to do that. I do a little puppet piece on top of a mantelpiece, but it’s now going to incorporate a whole puppet arena. It doesn’t have to just be me talking.
You sing Snow Patrol’s Run at one point – has that been a challenge?
That was one of the lynchpins really, because I am a sucker for being manipulated by music. One of the first nights that I did the show this woman, said ‘oh my god, I love that song’. And then when I did it later on I had to comfort her because she was bawling her eyes out. It’s one of those songs that gets people. Do you have any plans for the future?
I am going to take this show to America and Australia, too. I might try and write a play later on in the year. I like theatre, but I find that it is too written sometimes and so this would be to play with format and see where that takes me. It wouldn’t be a state of thenation thing, but more about sexual politics.
Who is your comedy icon?
Richard Pryor. As a teenager, I saw him on TV and decided that was what I wanted to do. I’m a working-class, Catholic, Dublin boy and he was then a crack-addicted, middle-aged American from a poor family but I thought, ‘you’re speaking my language’.
How’s comedy changed since you started out?
Lots of people see stand up as a way of getting on TV. There will always be mavericks in every generation who will do stuff that’s different, I don’t want to generalise, but there are so many people who say they are a stand-up comic, and you think, ‘no you’re not!”. It seems some people think it’s a job you need very few skills for – just stand on stage and talk!
There is a lot of it out there but it is quite diluted though. When I did it it was not to get on tv, I did, but that was not why.
Sean Hughes: Life Becomes Noises
at Udderbelly Festival | May 27 | £15
Tube | Waterloo