Sean Hughes remembered

Sean Hughes remembered

The List's Comedy Editor on the London-born Irish stand-up and actor who was the youngest winner of the Perrier Award in 1990

Comedy fans of a certain vintage continually torture themselves by pondering what might have happened had Bill Hicks stayed alive and kept working into the 21st century. Would his firebrand stay burning or was the flame to be doused by ageing, responsibility and commercial imperatives? There may be hints of what might have been in the career of Sean Hughes, the Irish stand-up who became friends with the American and shared a love of hard drinking and heavy smoking which ultimately led to their eventual downfalls, albeit 23 years apart.

Mirroring Hicks' loathing of advertising, Hughes (who has died at the age of 51) disavowed Stephen Fry's 'national treasure' status for his over-willingness to snatch the marketing dollar. For his own part, Hughes' initial late 80s / early 90s burst of surrealistic whimsy – through which he seemed to be channelling Oscar Wilde, Morrissey and Samuel Beckett – would eventually lead to stints on Coronation Street, Miss Marple and Casualty.

The London-born Hughes exploded onto the stand-up scene just at the point when comedy was being heralded as the new rock 'n' roll. In 1990, and at the age of 24, he became the youngest winner of the Perrier Award (fellow Irishman Dylan Moran would claim that accolade six Edinburgh Fringes later). That victory led to Channel 4 commissioning two series of Sean's Show, a 'sitcom' that it's almost impossible to imagine being made now. Hughes was handed virtually unfettered control over its creation with answerphone messages from Beckett, his ongoing obsession with The Smiths, and a sock that never seemed to dry becoming the talk of student flats across the country.

Love, death and notions of what constitutes success were rife in the show and followed him throughout his later work. With his desire to perform live waning, Hughes turned to penning novels as a means of getting his darkly comic ideas across in the late 90s while his TV profile remained high as a team captain on Never Mind the Buzzcocks for six years until 2002.

Eventually, Hughes' love for stand-up would return and he emboldened his Edinburgh Fringe CV with shows such as 2007's The Right Side of Wrong and his 'dead dad' hour, 2012's Life Becomes Noises. This August he was back with Sean Hughes' Blank Book, an improvised experiment in which he attempted to usher an adlibbing team of comics towards a story's scripted finale.

Not long after his passing was announced, the comedy world flooded social media with tributes as the likes of Dara Ó Briain, Aisling Bea, Al Murray and Richard Herring expressed their shock and sorrow. After such a glittering, originally-voiced and prize-laden beginning to his stand-up career, Sean Hughes was never likely to be forgotten by the comedy community. His podcast Under the Radar (the final download came in December) in which he interviewed fellow comics (peers such as Rob Newman and new talents like Sean McLoughlin) proved that, in what sadly turned out to be among his final public statements, he had wisdom to burn alongside his trademark cheek and charm.

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