'The fun of it is to be let off the leash' - Harry Hill on his return to stand-up
'There’s a lot of slapstick in it, all this mucking about which tickles me'
For anyone who might think that, surely, at the age of 48, Harry Hill’s stage act will be a little more sophisticated these days will probably want to think again. Sausage Time will feature, unsurprisingly, a 20ft banger, a mattress for the sole purpose of bouncing on from time to time, a ventriloquist doll, a paddling pool, a song sung in Tongan and a general level of mayhem and excess that would wear out acts half his age.
‘The fun of it is to be let off the leash,’ insists Hill. ‘I’m not really doing anything especially different from what I’ve always done, but there’s something funny about me doing all this when I’m now a bit older and still behaving like a big kid. There’s a lot of slapstick in it, all this mucking about which tickles me. I suppose it will become undignified at some point, and then I’ll have to stop doing that.’
Given that he was closer to 40 rather than 50 when he last performed a national tour, you have to imagine that he must be at the peak of fitness given the strenuous nature of his act? Not a bit of it. ‘I’m really not that fit though people think I am. I’m not overweight but I don’t do any proper exercise. I ripped a muscle in my calf and someone said to me I had to do these stretches, but I don’t really do much preparation which is perhaps rather foolhardy. I had forgotten how physical my act is and it pretty much is exhausting. I find I go back to my hotel, have a pint then go to bed and sleep like a dead man.’
Hill has returned to the live scene which helped make his name (he was the first Perrier Best Newcomer winner back in 1992) through the desire to resurrect a bit of passion for his comedy having been worn down by years of TV Burp. ‘I just needed a change and wanted the freedom of live work to do and say whatever you like. With the weekly turnaround of TV Burp, there was no time to finesse things, though that was one of its strengths because it was fresh and of the moment. But while there were bits of fun, it drove me a bit mad.’
Hill’s career is one of extreme variety. As well as the TV and live work, he has written a series of Tim the Tiny Horse books, had his own comic strip in The Dandy, exhibited art last summer in Edinburgh and launched a brand of fairtrade peanuts. But when he has taken off his big-collared shirt for the last time, what will he look back on most fondly? ‘I think you look back at the early things so there was the Channel 4 show I did. Last summer we made a compilation spoof documentary show for Channel 4 which was really good fun to look back at them all and to meet up with Burt Kwouk, Al Murray and the rest of the gang. What I’m most proud of with TV Burp is that we managed to keep going and maintain a level of quality for so many years. And I know I’ll probably never work so hard.’
King’s Theatre, Glasgow, Fri 22 & Sat 23 Mar; Edinburgh Playhouse, Fri 29 Mar.