'As far as I'm concerned, if you eat fish and you say you're a vegetarian you've got the exact same principles as the Nazis.'
Sean Hughes may now be 43, but the Irish comedian shows no signs of mellowing with age. A review of Hughes’ current show, What I Meant to Say Was…, described the 1990 Perrier Comedy Award-winner as seeming ‘a little bitter and more than a little concerned about getting old without achieving the comedy greatness he was always tipped for’.
But Hughes – speaking to CultureNorthernIreland ahead of an appearance at the Belfast Festival at Queen’s – says this isn’t quite the case: ‘Essentially what I’m doing is telling the truth, and I think people still get really frightened by that. But you’re never wrong when you’re telling the truth.’
Reviewers have also highlighted Hughes’ supposed ‘jealousy’ towards younger comics such as Michael McIntyre and Russell Howard though, again, Hughes can explain: ‘There are three times in the show where I have a pop at people. What has probably come across – and I make no bones about it – is that I’m at that age where I really don’t give a fuck. I don’t care what strangers think about me.’
About McIntyre, Hughes says: ‘He is very good at what he does, though his observations are really bland, which disappoints me. But it’s not his fault that thousands of morons come and see him.’
Also in the two-hour show, Hughes takes aim at Stephen Fry – ‘to no laughs whatsoever’ – for ‘prostituting’ himself by making numerous advertisements and documentaries. ‘It means you’re basically doing these things for money, and that’s not good enough for me,’ Hughes says. ‘I don’t have a go at any other people for doing that, but Stephen Fry puts himself across that he’s grander than that. Do people just want money? Do they really not care about their art?’
The dedicated animal rights proponent has another reason for being irked by the host of Last Chance to See. ‘I don’t think that anyone should be allowed to do wildlife shows unless they’re vegetarian,’ Hughes sighs.
Warming to the theme, Hughes launches into a rant about vegetarians who eat fish: ‘I prefer meat-eaters to pescetarians. As far as I’m concerned (and I know it’s a little extreme), if you eat fish and you say you’re a vegetarian you’ve got the exact same principles as the Nazis, which is like: 'You’re OK… You’re OK… You’re OK… But I’m going to kill and eat you.'’
Hughes became a household name in the 1990s with the television series Sean’s Show. Today, his star having faded somewhat, he is mostly content to travel the theatres of the UK and Ireland, dispensing dark, acerbic observations, with occasional acting gigs in the likes of Coronation Street and an upcoming episode of Agatha Christie’s Marple.
Dismissing the idea of a new series of Sean’s Show, he also reveals he has no plans to go back to Never Mind the Buzzcocks, the music quiz he team-captained for seven years: ‘It is kind of shameful that if you want to show your skills in stand-up it is a matter of doing a panel show. I’ve done that and I don’t want to do it anymore.’
CultureNorthernIreland asks Hughes for his thoughts on the BBC Northern Ireland series Find Me the Funny, in which the comedy coach Kurtis Matthews searches for a new stand-up star in Belfast and Derry. It’s basically The X Factor for comedians, and it makes stand-up look like the scariest profession in the world.
‘It’s a very stressful job,’ confirms Hughes. ‘That’s why all the good comics die by the time they’re 60.’ Of the wannabes being humiliated on Find Me the Funny, Hughes says: ‘They’re just getting two, three minutes. That’s no way to do it. It takes me a good 10 minutes before I get into the rhythm. I’d come bottom in all those competitions.’
Hughes’ current tour stretches into November, taking in venues across the British Isles. ‘I’m not doing this for money,’ he insists. ‘I’m doing it because I love doing stand-up. I feel safer onstage than I do walking down the street.’
Hughes regards Belfast as one of the most receptive audiences to his brand of sardonic wit. ‘Sometimes Belfast is absolutely the best gig on the tour,’ he says. ‘I much prefer playing Belfast than Dublin. I think you see me as one of your own, really.’