Jan ’18 – Sean Hughes, 1965-2017

Posted: January 19th, 2018 | Author: | Filed under: A Proper Blog | Tags: | No Comments »

“Anyone got any paracetamol?”

I have to confess that here at Brawlty Towers we’re (un)fairly hardy and that the world of celebrity “departures” never really makes much of an impact, Star Men and Star Women simply blink out, here today, gone tomorrow, yours to own on CD or DVD forever…. but…. I probably wouldn’t be typing this were it not for Sean Hughes who, courtesy of an introduction via my friend Meeks, blew the bloody doors off our teenage selves when in secondary school. I can clearly remember another good pal, Warky, coming into geography one lesson and reeling off all these weird one-liners, and wondering exactly what was up. It wasn’t entirely out of character – Warky was easily the sharpest and funniest of us all – but the slightly abstract content was definitely unusual. Of course, it transpired the jokes were nabbed wholesale from the Live And Seriously Funny VHS that was presently doing the rounds, a video that myself and my brothers watched twice in a row the evening it eventually stopped by our house….

“That sock still isn’t dry….”

Then there was the charmingly chaotic and joyous Sean’s Show (courtesy of Channel X, who had brought us the equally anarchic Vic Reeves Big Night Out only a few years earlier). It’s always quite difficult to go back and watch something that made such an impression on you as a youngster, but I’m pleased to report that actually, on a recent rewatch, Sean’s Show, ahem, stands up pretty well (and far better than I had honestly expected, given its’ limited 90’s production values). Similarly the second series, which I remembered being fairly poor at the time, was equally enjoyable as the, um, first, er, the second time around…? That, plus Sean’s Shorts – he visits Mull! ….and Manchester! – can be found on Sean‘s own Youtube channel here (as for some reason S2 was never released on DVD nor added to All 4’s box sets)….

“I wish that owl would shuttup!”

To top it all off the same group of us saw him live around this (peak) period. Though, hands up, I’ll be honest and state that it wasn’t perhaps the greatest gig…. It lasted for around 2 and a half hours (on stackable poly chairs!), with the “help me, I’m a vegetarian…” routine dragging (intentionally, I’m sure) on and on (across the stage floor), while the second half’s opening salvo was a lengthy Brookside routine that was likely better appreciated if you were a regular viewer. Mind, I’ll admit that I was also probably just a bit too young (i.e. a teenage idiot) to appreciate Sean‘s more sensitive leanings, and can recall Warky‘s copy of Sean’s Book being mocked – especially the bleak poetry – just as much as it was prized….

After Sean‘s passing I read a fairly astute observation online that he made comedy look so very easy that everyone thought they could have a shot, and I’ll admit I was no exception, ambitiously penning The Potter’s Guide, my very own (it was an average idea, spread very thinly, at the time) sitcom response to Sean’s Show before wising up and, together with Warky, having a fair go at sketch writing for BBC Scotland and The Comedy Unit in the late 90’s – a career quite possibly killed by endlessly rewriting the same sketch(es) to no effect, as well as putting our best creative energies into a show that eventually parted ways with our (enthusiastic) script editor (and ourselves by association).  The pair of us tackled stand-up comedy for a spell then too, putting on a (best of the worst!) award-winning show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2000, which I then followed up with a year or so’s worth of torture, er, I mean gigging in and around Glasgow….

Sean on set with Dennis Pennis and Roland from Grange Hill….

What followed for Sean was his pair of novels – they were definitely better at the time, but slipped down the rankings considerably as I became better read – and his stint as a team captain on Never Mind The Buzzcocks (a programme about which I have positively nothing positive to say at all, sorry)*. Meanwhile my own comedy ambitions crumbled under the weight of trying to say too much and not really being all that funny – I was a simple gagster, afraid to break out and express my real self (which was too meek and weak to project anything). I suppose this lack of narrative focus is what lead me once again to trying comics, the crafty “a picture is worth a thousand words” helping to get things back on some sort of (not having to die on my arse in front of, hmm, 23 people) track (er, please sit down, Elexender Browne). Sean, on the other hand, graduated to ever loftier heights, being granted parental approval – “that Irish bloke you like….” – as Mod in The Last Detective….

*I take that back. There was a great joke of Sean‘s in the (inevitable) cash-in book – thumbed through in a charity shop, of course! – about Karen Carpenter being so thin that latterly she used to fax herself to gigs….

Then, to bring things full circle WarkyMeeks and myself caught Sean live in Glasgow for his ‘The Right Side Of Wrong’ show in 2010 and then (there were two!) again in Edinburgh in 2012 for ‘Ducks And Other Mistakes I’ve Made’. Around this time – imagine, if you can, a glorious period when Myspace was a genuinely viable social media networking platform – I was lucky enough to receive a few short messages from Sean in response to a few encouraging things I’d written on his, er, ‘wall’? Or is it ‘feed’? We certainly communicated after I picked up a copy of The National‘s High Violet (this week’s album of the, um, week) having read in an interview it was his favourite album of that year. After that (and then there was one!) I didn’t unfortunately see him live again – there must be a joke in there somewhere about the fact that it’s quite obvious that the only person who should be going to a stand up gig on their own is the act….

I’ll not lie…. These later efforts were hardly the tightest or funniest stand up shows I’ve seen simply due to the fact that Sean matured into a more rounded raconteur, his ever-present thoughtfulness, the smallness of the big picture, coming well to the fore. You’d find yourself wincing as much as laughing as he mercilessly prodded and probed, picking shamelessly at (his) life’s scabs. It would be hard to imagine him tackling something like ‘Live At The Apollo’ with his random and profound (and bleak) stream of consciousness approach, the slow-build jokes scattered here, there and everywhere. But there was something deeper there, the three of us, now bumped about by life, our school selves (and ambitions) half a lifetime ago, watching Sean rattle on down the dark path ahead of ourselves, sending back suitably grim reports….

Of course, the beauty of these shows, and Sean’s real skill, was how he would begin to slowly tie all the disparate (and often desperate) comedy threads together at the end, making for a genuinely satisfying, er, (emotional) climax. Some of the reviews I read from punters online at this time were pretty rough, but I could easily see why folk would be disappointed with an overweight (and somewhat perpetually defeated) Sean huffing and puffing his way about the stage, taking sly swipes at Stephen Fry and Michael McIntyre and getting slightly narked when punchlines failed to land. Hardly the stuff (thankfully!) we’ve come to expect/accept in today’s more easily interchangeable, quick quip, routine-based comedic climate….

Unlike Sean, however,  there’s no clever or well thought-out denouement (unless, you count my using a very fancy word just there?) to this blog. No tying things together in a way that’ll have you leaving the auditorium with a jolly spring in your step (and perhaps a slight lump in your throat…. c’mon! I said throat!). I’m not even sure I’m making much of a passionate case for what Sean meant to myself (and to Warky, to whom he probably meant just as much, if not more, but in as many different ways). I suppose that’s the trick, if I could truly pin down what made Sean Hughes “Sean Hughes” then it wouldn’t make him quite nearly so unique, so inspiring and so special would it…?

“Bye bye! Bye bye! Bye bye!”

(….and he never did adverts, so there you go….)

Leave a Reply