The funniest thing about self-hate is the jokes

Steve Hughes chooses his comedy favourites

Richard Pryor Live In Concert

In the mid to late Eighties I lived in a house in Early Street, in Parramatta in the western suburbs of Sydney. If the walls could talk, they would slur their words drunkenly. We partied a lot in this house. It had two bedrooms, but at any time there could be four or five of us living there.

I had just broken up Slaughter Lord, my first successful band and greatest achievement of my life thus far. I was bandless and had a real job. God it was awful... but we had fun and drank a lot and as much as music still possessed my soul as the one reason to exist. Yes it was that dramatic.

Stand-up comedy had not even entered my head as something I could or would do, but we would often pop in the old VHS cassette of Richard Pryor Live In Concert and piss ourselves laughing as he put shit on white people. His white man voice is so funny. Its just so anal and serious and ridiculous.

The whole performance is brilliant. The animation of the characters, the ease and confidence, even if he is on coke its still a masterclass in how to do funny. It’s bold and truthful and is a benchmark in stand-up.

The Young Ones

It was in the very same house in Early Street where we also got involved in The Young Ones. We being me and the countless flatmates and guests who passed through the place each week. We lived like the Young Ones, not as university students but as musos and metalheads. No one I knew had ever gone to university, thank god!

Personally I see much of university as colonialism of the intellect and, these days, a wonderful method of debt creation for the young ones. They charge you to read Kerouac... now that’s funny.

Anyway, it’s hard not to laugh at Rik Mayall; he's funny as fuck, and only the English could create a character such as Rick or Wwhhick, gormless and pompous, disgusting and likeable – a total dick who thinks he's great. I can relate to that.

In fact it's easy to relate to all the characters, except, at the time, Mike, I found his plain man persona unremarkable next to the animation of the other three. I get it now, but back then we were excited that in one of the episodes Vyvyan wore a Saxon T-shirt... such simpler times. Australia in the Eighties was like being on a desert island, which of course we were.

You can put any clip up here –  they are all funny, although Nasty and Bomb are great. ‘Neil the bathroom’s free, unlike the country under the Thatcherite junta...’

Henry Rollins and Jello Biafra

Though not comedians per se, these singers in punk bands are an inspiration to how I see what stand-up could be used for. When the thrash scene began, punk and metal were still enemies, but as metal became more street level and the music more aggressive, fast punks began to like metal bands and vice versa.

As there were only a few thrash bands in Sydney in 1986 we did some of the first crossover shows with punk bands and began to make friends in the punk scene. Punk was always more political than metal and it was from this scene that I learnt about spoken word, especially Henry Rollins from Black Flag and Jello Biafra from the Dead Kennedys – what a name for a punk band!

It was another inspiration in the do-it-yourself attitude I still adhere to, If you want to do something then begin it, start, don’t wait for anyone or anything, just work out a way to do want you want and work hard at it. Create your own work then you create yourself.

I also began to think more about the reality of the world and its evils which has obviously had an effect on my comedy.

Woody Allen live cassette c1965 (and his books Side Effects and Without Feathers)

Around 1994 I decided I would do stand-up comedy. I had been in bands almost continually for a decade and had just joined Nazxul, one of the most extreme bands in Australian metal, while at night I went off to comedy clubs to tell jokes.

Once I had decided to do comedy I checked out everything I could. I had seen Woody Allen films as a kid, but didn't really get what they were about, but his stand-up and books are flawless in my opinion – although probably not in his opinion, which is why it’s so great.

The live audio show on cassette from 1965 is still killer stuff, it’s timelessly funny. Like some songs don’t die neither does this.

It’s the same with his books. When I read them sometimes I would have to put them down to soak in how fucking great they were.

The way his writing threw pictures of the jokes into my head just blew my mind, the obvious intricacies and subtle epicness was masterful. Like great lyricists, I learnt about the power of the right word and his timing is like great drumming – perfect but natural.

It’s also comedy based in a lot of suffering, which I like because there is the element of survival, of dissatisfaction of oneself or the world, which some would say are the same thing. Either way, the funniest thing about self-hate is the jokes.


Bill Hicks: Rant In E Minor

Bill Hicks had already passed away when I first saw his Relentless DVD and like most people it was a punch to the face, but it was also what I already thought stand-up should be like.

Like Pryor he had all the bases covered when it came to animation of his onstage characters, he was relevant like the Young Ones were relevant to a younger audience; like Rollins and Biafra he was political and subversive; and like Woody Allen his material was brilliant, hilarious and also based in suffering and salvation.

It was like a Jigsaw had fallen into place when I first saw and heard Bill Hicks. Like the first time I heard Kill ‘Em All by Metallica, it was like something you knew but couldn't put your finger on until it appeared.

His Rant In E Minor CD is a classic to me, some of his most brutal and savage material all mixed up with killer jokes and spiritual rantings, music truth and hate.

It’s beyond just comedy, which is why he had such an impact. In fact Bill Hicks had such an impact that some comics think its uncool to like him.

Sometimes the rebels don’t even know what side they’re on.

   Bill Burr: Let It Go

Bill Burr is my new favorite comic he's so fucking American you could fucking explode! You know what I’m fucking saying.

He's a mad man, a nut job a real comic, unhinged, frustrated, intelligent and furiously funny, like a train hitting you with his fast-paced American ranting, which I have always been a fan of.

He seems to be the exact type of person that I’m not: a loud, blokey, sports-loving, beer-drinking asshole, but we would get on because of comedy.

He can't be a complete arsehole as he is a brilliant comic and that takes more than just arseholery. That’s one of the joys of comedy – you get to meet, work and hang out with people who you  would socially never meet. Musicians tend to hang out with similar types of musicians, but comics... well surely I’m the only heavy metal drummer Mike McIntyre is ever likely to meet.

That’s comedy. The only true multi-culture on Earth.

  • Steve Hughes is currently on tour. Dates

Published: 23 Nov 2012

Live comedy picks

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