Reviewer: Jim Gillespie
Jeremy Hardy takes to the Lowry stage dressed in black shirt, black trousers and a pair of black trainers. “I’m Johnny Cash, ” he announces. Instead, he is a man in a black humour about most of modern politics and many aspects of modern society – especially anything remotely right wing.
The first half of the show is largely devoted to the exposition of his political leaning inflected with occasional observational humour. He laments the outcome of the last election, defends his friend Jeremy Corbyn, and deplores his own and his contemporaries lack of knowledge: “In the information age, our ignorance is largely our own fault” he declares. He criticises the portrayal of the Brexit decision in binary terms, as a war between the rich and poor, the north versus the south or the young against the old. (“Not so much a vicious cycle as an aggressively driven mobility scooter.”)
In the second half, Hardy is more relaxed. Anecdotes become more discursive and noticeably more personal. He does not trawl the old school territory of “Take my Wife” comedians, although he does indulge in a brief rant about the sharing of food. Instead, he speaks with genuine affection about his mum, his dad, his grandparents, his Dutch cousins, all the while using them to support a narrative that is tolerant of minorities, anti-austerity, hostile to divisive politics, and supportive of the NHS in all its imperfections, except for those inflicted by privatisation.
He is a deeply serious and thoughtful man, who understands human weaknesses, even his own. He understands that racism and the demonisation of the poor and disabled arise from fear of those who are different, and a need to validate ourselves by feeling superior to them. In the absence of real threats (lions, mammoths, sabre-toothed tigers) we are prey to those who try to capitalise on our innate fear factor: Stand up an array of politicians from Teresa May to Jeremy Hunt.
Amid all the ranting about the Tories, and the vilification of the bankers and tax avoiders, there was a genuine vulnerability on show as Hardy talked about his “job” as an entertainer. The practicalities of constant travel, idiosyncratic hotels, and strange audiences (sorry Bromsgrove) provided the butt for some of the more cutting humour. More revealing was how the fear of rejection stalks the stand-up comedian, rather than the fear of failure – which should be reserved to tight-rope-walkers and paramedics according to Jeremy.
There are a few purple passage sections of the show in which Hardy re-enacts scenes he has conjured up: A day-time TV hospital drama featuring every cliche from Emergency Ward 10 to Scrubs; The modern dinner party hostesses’ guide to cheese; A first encounter with foreign al fresco eating habit. These may be useful padding, but also allow him to demonstrate the genuine performing ability at the heart of his success.
On radio, Hardy often comes across as a casually sardonic ranter with a good turn of phrase, and a vicious streak reserved for those targets not bunker-bombed by Ben Elton. In person, he is warm, sensitive, self-effacing, decent, tolerant, and funny, without ever sacrificing the seriousness of his subject matter. No-one was rolling in the aisles, but everyone left with some opinions reinforced and a warm feeling inside.
Jeremy Hardy is a political animal. Always has been. The full-house audience cheered and laughed to the end, and it must be a pretty safe assumption that few of them were UKIP supporters. Given the tenor of the show, the only puzzles at the end of a great evening in Hardy’s company was why Donald Trump and the US Presidential circus had merited no more than a passing mention, and why the post-Brexit political order in the UK had not suffered more of a trouncing. He may be getting soft left.
Reviewed on 29 October 2016 then tours until 28 February 2017 | Image: Contributed