How comedy can help us make sense of the pandemic...
The pandemic certainly won’t be a subject to be avoided when award-winning writer and comedian Andy Hamilton finally gets to tour after three cancellations.
Part of the point of comedy is that that’s what comedy does, as Andy explains.
“My objective is to give people laughter. Laughter and entertainment are the aims and to give people an hour and a half to two hours’ escape, but my other objective is to be as natural as possible and to make them feel like they are in my front room.
“A lot of the show is shaped by the audience. They are a huge part of it.”
In fact, he will be answering audience questions on a tour which takes in Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre on Sunday, October 10.
“And I am sure I will talk about the pandemic. It has been a huge experience that everyone has gone through, and that’s partly what jokes are for. Jokes are there to cut serious problems down to size so that we can make them a bit more manageable. That’s partly what a joke is. The vast amount of comedy is about really serious things, and I think it would be very peculiar if I didn’t talk about the pandemic. The mental landscape has changed.”
But he will also be offering comic reflection, reminiscence and revelation, looking back on 40-plus years in comedy and 60(ish) on the planet.
Beginning in 1976 as a contributor to Radio 4’s Weekending, Andy went on to pick up a raft of awards for co-writing and co-directing such household TV classics as Drop The Dead Donkey and Outnumbered. His TV satires turned up the heat on Westminster with Ballot Monkeys and Power Monkeys, and he and his co-writer Guy Jenkin also penned and directed the hit British comedy feature film What We Did On Our Holiday. In spring last year, their latest sitcom Kate & Koji, starring Brenda Blethyn and Jimmy Akingbola, aired on ITV.
To an extent, lockdowns and cancellations weren’t too bad, Andy says: “Performing on stage is lovely, but it is a kind of add-on to my proper job which is writing. It was not like my livelihood depended on it, but performing is still something that I really enjoy doing and I have missed it. It is great making TV and stuff but it is wonderful to get out there and meet an audience that likes your stuff.
“But really I had a pretty easy lockdown compared to what a lot of other people went through.”
Now he returns to the stage, trusting in the vaccine “to either keep me safe or if I do get it, I will get it fairly mildly like a few of my friends have.” And so far, it is pretty mixed in the audience whether they wear masks or not. Andy doesn’t have a strong view. It is for them to decide.
“My first show back was in Swindon and it was weird and wonderful… wonderful to be back in front of real 3D people again at last rather than people on screens.”
And maybe there is a different appreciation now: “It is like a lot of things, when you have that possibility taken away from you, you value it more.
“Certainly when I walked on stage in Swindon, I had a feeling that I was lucky to be doing this again and to have that experience again, and I think it has sharpened my appreciation of it.
“Nothing beats a live audience. It is that immediacy and that intimacy that you connect with.
“I started off when I was a student and I used to get up on stage. I wrote and I performed and I enjoyed larking around on stage. But for a long time I was a professional writer and only occasionally got up on stage. I didn’t do much, and that was really true for about 15 years, and then I just missed doing it.
“What changed was that I wrote a sitcom for Radio 4 called Old Harry’s Game where I played Satan, and I wrote it with the view that I would play Satan and that gave me the performance bug back.”
The current tour also marks the paperback release of Andy’s handwritten epic novel Longhand via Unbound, a book published in Andy’s own manuscript: “It is a letter that has been left behind by a man who has had to leave his partner of 20 years in order to protect her. I am confident that it is the first fictional work in manuscript since Caxton!”