Hal Cruttenden: 'I talk about my wife and kids in an incredibly disparaging way... but to them it’s just Dad being an arse'
Hal Cruttenden can’t remember if he has been to Bishop’s Stortford before. He thinks he may have once, possibly.
“The problem is, when you’re a stand-up you do so many gigs that often it’s not until you turn up at a venue that you remember 'Yes, I've been here before',” he told the Indie. “No offence!”
Actually, he has been several times. He played John Mann's former Ha-Half Moon Sunday night club at least twice, plus the rugby club and a school benefit. And he has appeared once before at Paddy Lennox's Laughing Bishops Comedy Club, to where he returns this Saturday (January 18).
No wonder it can all get a bit hazy. The past year has been phenomenally busy for the hugely likeable comic. At the tail end of 2019 he finished his very well-received, 48-date, eight-month Chubster tour of the UK (his teenage daughters chose the name), and in recent years he has become a familiar face on the telly.
You may have spotted him sitting in the famous black chair on Celebrity Mastermind over Christmas (specialist subject Magnus Magnusson, he scored a respectable eight points with no passes) and he is a regular on shows like Have I Got News for You, Mock the Week and The Great British Bake Off: An Extra Slice (“They asked me because I’m fat”).
Now, having had a few weeks off over Christmas and New Year, he says he is chomping at the bit to get back to it.
“What I like about January is that your act begins to start changing quite a lot,” he said. “You can start developing new things, bringing in new ideas and jokes. I’m finding that, particularly as I’m getting older, I’m becoming more and more honest.”
Having originally started out as an actor (he trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama alongside the likes of Catherine Tate), Hal was a relative late-comer to the comedy circuit. At the age of 26, a friend suggested he would make a brilliant comic and persuaded him to come along to a stand-up workshop. That was 24 years ago.
“I thought I’d never be able to deal with the heckling or being shouted at,” he said. “I’m a massive neurotic, but if you want to do what you want to do then you have to deal with horrible situations. Michael McIntyre, John Bishop... every single comic has had those experiences, but it’s worth it to be able to say things out loud that you’ve thought up in your head and make people laugh. It’s the biggest thrill.”
With his increasing popularity (his Chubster tour was extended by 18 dates due to demand) has come the freedom to explore subjects that really interest him. And as far as Hal is concerned: “If the joke is good enough then anything is up for grabs.”
Family life with his wife – Northern Irish artist and children’s author Dawn Coulter-Cruttenden (the first woman to be an artist in residence at London's Savoy Hotel) and their two teenage daughters – provides a never-ending source of comedy gold.
“I talk about my wife and kids in an incredibly disparaging way,” he laughed. “People gasp and say ‘Oh, you can’t say things like that’, but to them it’s just Dad being an arse.
“I always like to do a bit about politics too. It’s such a sensitive issue, people get so emotional about it and I think that’s because, particularly at the moment, the stakes seem so high.”
In this age of outrage, Hal said that audiences can be tough. “People are quick to be offended about anything and everything at the moment. But the best comedy should make you laugh and rethink your viewpoint.
“I think people also forget that comedy is subjective,” he added. “The truth is, it's funny but you personally just don’t find it funny. I had a guy tweet me the other day because he’d seen me on TV and he said 'I thought you were a politician, you’re not funny and you’re not a comedian'. Hang on a minute, you wouldn’t say to Ed Sheeran, one of the most brilliant songwriters in the world, 'You’re crap and you’re not a musician' just because you don’t like his music.
“I think what happens is people think their opinion is the objective truth and that’s why they get so angry, when in reality it’s just someone talking who is annoying you. But for me, comedy should be right where we are most sensitive, so I’m quite passionate about never being told anything is off limits. Having said that, will I do a Prince Philip joke on the day he dies? No I won’t.”
So what can we expect on Saturday night? “Oh, y'know, the usual – sheer genius, laugh after laugh... they’ll want to make me mayor by the end.”
* Saturday’s gig at the United Reformed Church hall in Water Lane starts at 8.30pm; doors open 7.30pm. Tickets are £17.60 online (including booking fee) from www.wegottickets.com/event/486918. There is a licensed bar and pop-up curry stall.