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Sean Hughes: “When people have no faith in me that’s when I’m at my best”

The stand-up comedian, actor and writer, who sadly passed away this week aged 51, on his love of American comedy , feeling like a "black sheep", and how his parents dreamed of him working in a supermarket

At 16 I think I had my hair like Mike Peter from The Alarm, I would shove my hands in my hair to get that static electricity. At school I was quite popular but in my area of South Dublin I hung out with this gang of hard nuts and they picked on me, which was a nightmare. To this day I can’t stand bullies.

The supermarket I worked for offered me a full-time job and I laughed in their face

I was brought up not to read books really and that still rankles today. I think I was about 18 when I read The Book of Laughter & Forgetting and it totally changed my life – I didn’t realise that people had the same thoughts as me. I still need to be pushed to start a book, then I remember how brilliant they are.

Sean Hughes, left, with Never Mind the Buzzcocks presenter Mark Lamarr and fellow team captain Phill Jupitus.

I was fiercely independent as a teenager – I worked as a supermarket trolley boy to have my own money. Even at 16 I knew I was going to be a stand-up. I remember the supermarket I worked for offered me a full-time job and I laughed in their face. But my parents would have been so delighted – that was the limit of their ambitions for me, to work in a supermarket.

One night I saw Richard Pryor live at Sunset Boulevard and I thought he was fucking amazing – I could tell he was using his own voice. And when I started doing comedy I didn’t have the confidence to just talk like that, I felt I had to do jokes. But that changed. Bob Monkhouse used to do this chat show and he always had an American comic on it and I loved them. I’ve always loved American comedy more than British or Irish – I always hated toilet humour or Carry On, that kind of thing.


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I remember one of my earliest jokes was about me thinking I was in the wrong family. I felt like the black sheep in that whole society, people forget what Dublin used to be like. It was really dour and dark. My dad was pretty basic, he thought my older brother was the businessman, my younger brother was a bit of an athlete and me, the dreamer, I’d end up in the supermarket. When you’re 16 you want support. I didn‘t get any. Everything changed for me when I was 19 and I went to the Comedy Store.

I am and have always been a stand-up. Not a lot of people see it as an art-form but it is

I was totally driven, I’m still the youngest winner of the Perrier Award. I get off on negative energy, when people have no faith in me that’s when I’m at my best. I was on TV in a comedy double act when I was 19 but my parents didn’t seem that bothered. Now they’re proud but only two years ago they came to stay in my lovely house in London that’s worth a fortune and my dad said, “Do you regret not going to college?” It’s a weird thing to say to your son who’s successful and gives you money for presents.

Sean Hughes shared Bob Monkhouse's love of US comedy

People who know me say I come alive onstage. Basically, I am and have always been a stand-up. Not a lot of people see it as an art-form but it is. We talk about society. I stopped doing stand-up for a while – I felt that people were demanding a laugh every minute or so. I wrote a novel and poetry and did some acting but then I went back to stand-up, the purest art-form. I realised I should never have given up.

I did sacrifice all private relationships to pursue what I did. That would be a regret, I think you should have a more balanced life. I’ve had a weird life. I had my own TV show at 22. I’m still driven to make my show as funny as it can be and talk about stuff that’s important. I’m still very childish, and you could also call that selfish. My best friend had a baby 2 months ago and I still can’t imagine doing any of that. It does not enter my periphery vision. Though I do love kids and I’m very good with them. But only if I can walk away. I feel claustrophobic in my big house that I live in on my own. I couldn’t think of having a wife or a kid there. I’m 43 now – two thirds of the way through my life – cause all comics die before they’re 60.