Glaswegian comedy legend Craig Hill has spent nearly 20 years on the road. A constant schedule of comedy clubs, theatre engagements and corporate gigs have left little time for anything else, but the quirky comic takes every step in his stride.
Hill opens our interview by commending himself on starting bang on the agreed time, a welcome change to many others in the business, and offers an instant reminder of why he is so popular. He takes no time to get to know his interviewer, as though we’re old chums meeting up after years of separation.
Despite his exceptional popularity, Hill shies away from proclaiming his tour as the commercial success that it is. ‘I don’t ever ask about ticket sales or anything, I just turn up and do my show at the same level, for 50 people or for 500’. It is refreshing to hear a comic in this increasingly commercial industry, focussing solely on the enjoyment of his audience, rather than boasting about the crowds that they have played to. He says he likes to return to the same venues which makes his shows, that focus almost exclusively on his audience, even more fun when he sees familiar faces.
On making each show special, Hill is dogged; ‘Aye, well it’s my Friday night too, so I might as well have as much fun as I can. There are two gigs, the audience’s and mine. Their gig is what matters but if I have a great time then all the better!’.
He speaks as he is packing up to play gigs in Newcastle, after a stint at the Glasgow Comedy Festival. He recently shared a festival line up in Holland with Iggy Pop – not a bad gig for a lad from East Kilbride – and a 1am Glastonbury slot; But coming back to theatres holds particular significance for Hill, who trained at Queen Margaret College in Edinburgh.
Hill is known for his camp humour, bald head and swishing kilt, but he’s no different off stage than on. ‘I hope I’m a little calmer off stage, but I don’t feel any pressure to be funny. I’m a comedian because if I wasn’t, I’d be that guy having a laugh at work in real life. It’s just a natural extension of me.’
Later in the diary, he’s off to Australia. This presents a challenge that Hill is desperate to tackle: he’s no stranger to comedy Down Under, after a number of successful years touring there, but whilst his jokes transfer well, he notes that slight adaptations have to be made to substitute his Scots vocabulary for some more Aussie-friendly words. ‘It is indeed jolly to be in Sydney and go for breakfast in the sun’, a perk of the job if ever there was one.
Of course, no Scots comic can be probed about upcoming dates without talking about the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. He’ll be collating his ideas on his return from Australia for what will be his 19th solo show at the Fringe. As a resident of Edinburgh, he says he would be daft not to attend one of the world’s biggest comedy festival on his doorstep. The changes in scale have not gone unnoticed by Hill. He feels for those starting out, as ticket prices can deter an audience from taking a chance, though he does acknowledge that Free Fringe does help to combat this. But what hasn’t changed is the buzz.
So how does he stay relevant in an ever-crowded industry? He is assured in his own instincts and trusts that what he thinks will be funny probably should be: ‘cross your fingers and hope for the right thing’ he says, and his instincts have been right so far.
Craig Hill is unfailingly grateful for the position that he is in. It is perhaps his most likeable trait. He tells how, after one particularly good gig in Kirkcaldy, he felt so lucky he just had to meet his audience after the show and thank them in person. He has repeated this every night since, allowing him to meet his devoted disciples and find out more about their lives. This gratitude is what keeps people coming back to his shows, gig after gig, year after year.
He finishes by relating his success to his theatre training: ‘the idea of any space to explore your creativity is so important because you might just find the job that you love. Being taught a certain level of professionalism, about behaving, writing, preparing, is what has helped me the most. The most useful thing is actually doing it, though. Nothing can replace getting up as often as you can and just doing it.’
Craig Hill is appearing at Eden Court Theatre, Inverness on March 30 2018 and on tour. For more information visit www.mrcraighill.com
Fraser MacDonald | Image: Steve Ullathorne