Political columnist Simon Hoggart and daughter/comedian Amy Hoggart - interview
The two Hoggarts quiz each other prior to their (separate) appearances at the Edinburgh Fringe 2013
This article is from 2013.
Simon is dad to Amy. Amy is a character comedian, Simon is a political columnist. Simon writes for The Guardian. Amy writes comedy things in her own room before eventually performing them in front of strangers. Both are appearing at the Fringe this August. Here, they get the chance to ask each other a bunch of questions about their work
Simon to Amy
SH: Everyone says you must be very brave to do stand-up. Is it bravery?
AH: Yes, bravery. Bravery and a lack of self-respect.
It’s easy for me to do a speech. The audience are probably Guardian readers and so have a vested interest in enjoying the talk. How do you cope with not having the faintest idea whether they are going to be receptive, hostile, mellow or pissed?
It’s really hard not knowing what to expect. Also I’m quite bad at guessing, so if I think it will go one way, it usually goes another. If you’re a naturally anxious person who likes to control everything (I’m not saying I am, a friend of mine is), then you have to learn to get used to it. Eventually you find your twitch fades a bit and your rashes barely flare.
How do you cope with hecklers?
I’ve never been heckled. I think because I look too small and vulnerable. Sometimes I look out into the audience and see pity in their eyes, so I guess those people may be the ones who would shout something out if they didn’t feel so sorry for me. Once I thought I was being heckled though. It was quite a rowdy crowd of pissed students and this guy kept shouting something I couldn’t catch. I assumed he was being a dick so I said back: ‘I really can’t hear you, I think it’s because I’m the one with the mic and you’re not’. This got a huge drunken cheer and all his friends started laughing at him. He went bright red and embarrassed and it turned out he was trying to say they couldn’t see some of the slides from the back. I felt really awful, plus it totally set the wrong tone for the show. If you like quick put-downs and aggressive interactions with the audience, you will probably not enjoy the rambles of an unusual character act making jokes about cats for an hour.
What’s the buzz like when a show goes down really, really well? Does it last for days? Or do you just think: ‘that was OK, but tomorrow might be shit’?
I don’t think I really get that buzz. I normally feel relief that I didn’t die onstage or forget all my lines. Then I start remembering that I have to do it again sometime and it’ll probably not go as well.
What’s the best thing about being in comedy?
Probably the other people who work in comedy, as they’re mostly creative and funny. Also I just really like making myself laugh on my own in my bedroom while I’m writing, and the fact that this is (sort of) acceptable.
What was the best gig you ever did, and why? What was the worst gig you ever did, and what went wrong?
The best gig was at Hull University a few months ago, just because everyone there was really lovely, and I enjoyed myself onstage for the first time ever. The worst was about three years ago during one of my first gigs with Sarah Campbell [as part of their Christmas for Two double act]. There was a horrendous stag do and they were all wearing comedy hats. They hated our stuff and just laughed at us while I did my lines to the floor out of embarrassment and then rushed off immediately after we finished. I’d just started dating a new guy who had come along, and ended up seriously embarrassed by me. He just said: ‘do you want to leave then?’, but I couldn’t find my bag, so we ended up having to stay till the end. I stood at the back and cried really quietly. Afterwards, I didn’t fancy going out, and he did, so I travelled back home on the train alone and called you and mum but you were at a party yourselves so couldn’t talk and I just felt like the biggest loser in the world.
I think people vaguely imagine that all you do is wander on stage and say funny things. Then have a drink and go home. But surely it’s much more hard work than that?
Um. Maybe not if you’re the type of experienced comic who can just ad lib and be brilliant off the cuff. I’m more the type who writes for hours, edits, highlights, memorises and then delivers the whole thing like it’s an exam. By and large, I think that comics work seriously hard. Many have other jobs as well, plus you never really switch off so you’re always working. There is a lot of drinking, though.
Amy to Simon
AH: Have you ever been tempted to try comedy?
SH: No, I’d be scared. I talk about politicians mainly, and they provide my best material.
Have you ever been heckled onstage during a talk?
Yes. A story I tell involves a very bad word, but I always warn people before hand. It went down well at the tennis club in Frinton-on-Sea which is ground zero for British gentility. But in Cheltenham someone walked out in a rage.
Do you worry about causing offence?
Yes. You’d never joke about someone’s family or disability. But personal appearance is a different matter. Look at Eric Pickles.
When you’re in parliament, do you care more about the issue being discussed, or how you can get a joke out of it?
The jokes. I have several brilliant colleagues who do the serious stuff.
Have your views changed much in the 40 years you’ve been writing about politics?
I decided on day one I never wanted to be an MP and I’ve never wavered. I’ve got more cynical about the political game but find myself more tolerant of politicians as people.
What’s the craziest thing that’s happened in the house?
The time Michael Heseltine got so enraged by Labour MPs singing ‘The Red Flag’ that he picked up the ceremonial mace and waved it round like Hercules killing the lion. Comedy gold.
Do you ever find that your jokes don’t work well in print because readers can’t tell tone?
There ought to be a typeface called ‘Ironic Bold’. Some people just don’t get irony. They’re quick to take offence.
Could I have another (small) financial loan, please?
No. Talk to your agent.
Amy Hoggart as Pattie Brewster: Just a Normal Girl Doing a Cool Show, Underbelly, Bristo Square, 0844 545 8252, 3–26 Aug (not 12), 4.20pm, £9–£10 (£8–£9). Previews 31 Jul–2 Aug, £6.
Simon Hoggart: House of Fun – Twenty Glorious Years in Parliament, Assembly Rooms, George Street, 0844 693 3008, 9 Aug, 12.30pm, £10.