When I was twenty-one, I thought Sean’s Show was the funniest programme on the television. At the centre it featured this awkward, fumbly, fantastic floppy-haired boy-man, Sean Hughes, who wore cardigans and cords, talked to a spider named ‘Elvis’ and loved The Smiths.
His childlike humour, vulnerability and insecurity he shared so comfortably on screen and in stand up resulted in him being the youngest person ever to win the Perrier Award - and secured his place as the comedy crush of every other girl, granny, mother, auntie and possibly brother in the UK. Post Sean’s Show he went on to have a consistent and successful career as a multi-faceted artist: actor, panelist, DJ, author, poet and stand up; rooting him as one of the UK’s most respected and loved personalities.
During his stand up show I watched at Udderbelly, this forty-six year old gentle man with the light-as-a-feather Irish lilt offered cuddles to the front row and ginger nuts to the seniors while talking about the significance of his Six Million Dollar Man Doll. There were a few ‘fecks’ in there but he put it down to expression and delivery: ‘I do that Irish swearing. It’s like punctuation.’
After three hours of walking his dogs, a chat on a bench then eating vinegared chips while drinking cold coffee I could see that he was still the same. He’s curious and whimsical like he has butterflies up there instead of neurons. His ‘la-la-la-la’ love of life – which skips from the profound and poignant one minute - to the surreal and hilarious the next – still reigns. Sean lives his life being gently and happily distracted by, well, stuff people do: [to me]: ‘What do you mainly eat?’
Sean had plenty to say about my mum: ’Are you trying to set me up with your mother?’ and stew recipes: ‘It’s pretty much like boil-a-load-of-sh*t-up-together.’
Whilst he no longer sings ‘It’s Seany’s Show! La-la-la-la’ in the bath he still has a lovely singing voice - but he would definitely not let Morrissey come and live in his house to hear it. Impressively, he can drink up to ten cups of peppermint tea a day, he loves his dogs, Sweep and Betty, and yes, he does know how Jeane goes.
J: I have two pages of questions. I hope you like talking about yourself.
S: Actually I don’t, really.
J: Please say your full name.
S: So this is a court of law now? It’s all of a sudden got very formal! Em, I’m Sean Patrick Hughes.
J: Oh, there is a Patrick in there? Same as himself?
S: Oh I must tell you – one of the last times I saw Morrissey I was in Dublin at a gig and I said: ‘Alright Morrissey’ and he went: ‘Alright Hughes’. So I was like, ‘do I start calling you Steven from now on then?’
J: You sound really excited on your interview together on GLR. He was really nice to you as well. One of his better interviews I’ve heard.
S: I was excited! It was a live interview so it couldn’t be edited. He wanted to go to HMV to buy some black and white movies. I had to give him a lift, and my car was full of dog hair, and he doesn’t like dogs.
J: That’s nonsense! He does like dogs! He loves all animals.
S: You know they did that ‘The Importance of being Morrissey?’ There was a leather chair and he said something like: ‘I don’t want to be seen near this chair.’
J: Quite right too.
S: Morrissey is trapped in his own personality.
S: I think I’ll say that about myself: ‘Sean is trapped in his own personality’.
J: You’re a scorpio, is that right?
S: Yeah. You don’t want to live with a scorpio.
J: My mother is one.
S: What is her actual birthday?
J: November 18th. She’s mad about you in ‘The Last Detective’.
S: I went to America last month and I got recognised four times – all from ‘The Last Detective’. I had women hugging me, I was like: ‘get off me Mrs.’
J: You’re everybody’s comedy crush, that’s why. Grannies, mothers, brothers, aunties… People are very fond of you.
S: Unless they get to know me, then it all changes. Your mum is proper Scorpio. My brother is 5th and he’s not Scorpio at all.
J: What is he then?
S: He has no traits of it.
J: What are Scorpio traits?
S: The old sting in the tail. We feel quite set upon most of the time. We’re intense in the sense that we’re very loving but when you let us down, oh Jesus you won’t know the end of it. I try not to bear grudges. I watched that one woman show by Carrie Fisher and there’s one line in it at the end where she says: ‘Living a revengeful life is like drinking poison while waiting for the other person to die.’ Scorpios always feel let down, we expect too much from people. The lesson I’ve learnt from my life is to lower your expectations.
J: Are you still a vegetarian?
S: Morrissey once told me that the one thing he hated people asking him was: ‘Are you STILL a vegetarian?’
J: I’ll scrub that out.
S: I prefer people who eat meat to people who ‘used’ to be vegetarians. Are you vegetarian?
J: I am.
S: Is it because of Morrissey?
J: He did play a large part in it, yes
S: Yeah he did with me as well. I hate to admit it.
J: I never liked the taste of meat though. Maybe it was my mum’s gammon steaks.
S: You were fairly working class then?
J: Potatoes were on the menu a lot.
J: I love potatoes.
S: I still have potatoes a lot. What do you mainly eat?
S: I like a lot of that fake meat.
J: I like the thin Quorn deli ‘ham’ slices.
S: Nah. I mean when you put it in stews.
J: You make stews?
S: Yeah. The Swedish fake meatballs are great.
J: Where do you get them – Ikea?
S: No – get them in Tescos – the big Tescos in the frozen foods. Do you not do stews?
J: No, what’s your stew recipe?
S: Whatever you want it to be. It’s pretty much like boil-a-load-of-sh*t-up-together. Par-boil the potatoes. Bear in mind some things will be harder than others, so you got to time it right. Put whatever spices and herbs you like in. I can’t stand carrots so I put mushrooms, potatoes, a bit of onion…
J: I don’t think mushrooms go with potatoes, though, do they?
S: They do in my world! I’ll have to go home now and be like [to mushrooms]: ‘Well YOU”RE out apparently! Can’t see you two together again!’
J: I thought that you didn’t like talking about yourself? I haven’t even got to question two yet.
S: It’s your fault for getting me talking about recipes! Once you get me onto recipes there’s no stopping me.
J: Could you describe yourself in a sentence?
S: Do you watch that show, ‘Mad Men’?
J: Yes, love it.
S: I was trying to put my finger on why it’s so good. I think it’s because I cannot describe one of those characters in a sentence. Can you?
J: Well let’s try: Roger Sterling, Lothario, joker. Don Draper: Dapper…
S: See I’m not even going to let you away with the first one because you say that and you know that Roger doesn’t like that high life. When he did that LSD trip he realised that. I just got to the bit where Don is turning off the Beatles from the record player.
J: It’s about to get a whole lot better. One word: Lane. I’ll say no more.
S: Did you know he’s Richard Harris’ son?
J: Is he? No I didn’t know. My mum probably knew that though.
J: Your dogs are so cute. How old are they?
S: Sweep is sixteen, Betty is eight.
J: So can you describe yourself in a sentence? Maybe something about stews?
S: I’m the type of person who can’t be described in one sentence. I hope.
J: Right then…
S: You won’t get that answer ever again, will you?
J: I don’t know.
[Sweep growls at two passing dogs. Sean: ‘Sweepie! Which one do you not like?]
J: Are the dogs your special ones in your life?
S: They’re not even that special.
J: Do you call yourself ‘daddy’ to them?
S: No! I just say their names. I don’t say: ‘Come to daddy!’ It’s really weird because… I refer to them both as boys. I say ‘come on boys’. Do you do that with your kids?
J: Sometimes we’ll say ‘away the lads’ to both of them. Look at Betty. She needs some sheep. [Betty lies down and wags her tail, waiting for Sean to throw the ball].
S: It’s in her DNA. I have a cat as well. She’s lovely. She’s even older than Sweep.
J: Did you like the pictures of Morrissey with a cat on his head? The Jake Walters ones?
S: I’m sure I’ve seen them. Was the cat in his arms?
J: No you’re thinking of the baby?
S: A cat and a baby?
J: No. Just a cat. On his head.
J: I am a big fan of Seany’s show, and how you used The Smiths in that.
S: Were you into the Smiths then?
J: Yes, very much. There was nothing like you on TV when you came along…
S: OR SINCE!
J: You were quite child-like, innocent, and vulnerable. Clean and sweet. None of that swearing you do now…
S: I do that Irish swearing. I forget. It’s like punctuation. When I listen back I just go ‘Oh my God’.
J: Is it your age?
S: Well, rather than mellowing I do get a bit more perplexed by life, but I will always question things. You always worry that you will become Chris Rea, ‘here’s another very bland song’.
J: Were you aware of how unique Sean’s Show was?
S: I think that the only way you can be different is by not being fake. I think that’s why Morrissey is a success because he’s not fake. You get your natural performers and those people who try very hard. I’m natural on stage. I enjoy it. I don’t then go off stage and throw a hissy fit.
J: What is your favourite joke?
S: Jokes come and go, but I still laugh at them. The last thing I laughed at was in Mad Men, when Roger brought Pete Campbell into the office to collect two sets of skis. And he went out with them really clumsily and Roger went: ‘Well I’m glad I saw that.’ The recent Carrie Fisher thing made me laugh as well.
J: Why did you get rid of your armchair in the live shows?
S: I never really thought it through. Everything evolves. I have a ‘pint’ of ginger nuts now and the box feels like a pint. You’ve really just got to move onto the next chair, haven’t you?
J: You do talk about your mid 40s and being old on stage, I just thought that you’d have a more comfortable chair than a hard stool.
S: If I sit in a sofa there’s a good chance I won’t be able to get up, without it really having good purchase. I can’t take those risks.
J: Do you still sit in the bubble bath and sing ‘it’s Seany’s show, la-la-la-la’
S: Well, what do you think? I thought you were going to be a serious interviewer?
J: This is a very serious question.
S: Did you really want an answer?
J: I do.
S: No, I don’t. No.
J: Do you ever sing it?
S: Em, well I wrote it. Everyday on twitter somebody does a ‘Sean’s Show’ reference which I like. It was over 25 years ago! Channel 4 is doing a top 30 sitcoms and it’s not in it.
J: You’re joking!
S: Not even in the top 30. I’m not going to kick up a fuss.
J: Tell me who I need to write to?
S: Not write, Julie. The days of writing are finished. We need shooters now. We should just kill. It’s time for the killing to start.
J: Why did you leave the Buzzcocks?
S: I didn’t want to be known for just that. I did ten series. It was a long time.
J: You’ve done Sean’s Show, Sean’s Shorts, Buzzcocks, but what I really want to hear about is Eileen Grimshaw.
S: I tried to get rid of that memory… [Laughs]. I still keep in touch with Sue. She’s a lovely woman; I really like her a lot.
[Sweep sees another dog he doesn’t like and goes for it. Sean: ‘SWEEP! Why don’t you chill out yeah? Live and let live, yeah?’ Sweep grumbles and lies down under the bench.]
S: When they [Coronation Street] phone to say: ‘You’re going to have a love interest with one of the characters’, I assumed it would be like, Tina O’Brien or someone.
S: They were like, ‘Nah, it’ s big Eileen from the cab office’. I’m like ‘Wha?’ Coronation Street made me realise that I was getting on a bit.
J: Tina O’Brien?
S: We live deluded lives.
J: But you took the part anyway?
S: Yeah because my mum loves Coronation Street! I rang up to get some background information on the character. I asked: ‘What does he sell?’ They said ‘Oh you’ve got me there’. He never had a briefcase. He must have sold really tiny sh*t [goes into inside pocket]: ‘Here - I’m Pat the salesman - you want to buy some of that?’
J: What was it like being in Corrie?
S: There was no fanfare or anything. They were like: ‘You’ve got the job’. At ten past nine on Monday I was in the Rovers Return doing my first bit and Craig Charles was like: ‘By the way that door doesn’t work’. The regulars don’t like doing scenes in the Rovers because there are loads of extras around. I realised I was over my panic attacks from my younger days when I could just stand that and be like: ‘a pint please.’
J: Did you get a proper pint in there?
S: They put a tiny bit of real beer in there. I don’t drink anymore, but I remember with lager, I don’t like the gas; this was a problem in The Last Detective. Too much build up in my stomach.
J: That couldn’t have been nice for your co-stars. Did you ever get to try on Deirdre’s belts?
S: No, they keep them locked up. [Laughs]. Bill Roache [Ken Barlow] is nice. He did come up to me and say: ‘I’m so happy that you’re in the show’. I thought, what a sweet man.
S: One of my favourite Morrissey lyrics is: ‘it takes guts to be gentle and kind’ because it does, it does take guts to be gentle and kind. I remember at some do I was at during Sean’s Show Richard Stilgoe was there. He came up to me and said: ‘it’s really nice to meet you; I’m a big fan. It’s really nice to see the younger generation coming up.’ When he walked away I was like: ‘w*nker!’
J: Yes, but you were twenty-five. It was probably nerves.
S: I know but I just feel really bad. I really regret saying things like that. This is Sir Richard Stilgoe.
J: I don’t think you can give yourself a hard time about that. You were young and cheeky.
S: Yeah, I guess, but I still think there’s no excuse.
[Betty paws my foot. Sean: ‘That’s her way of getting your attention. She wants the ball’. I throw the ball for her. She’s back in seconds, dropping the ball at my feet again].
J: She’s sprightly.
S: She’s very clever. Is your mum very active?
J: The dog keeps her fit. Would your mum get a dog?
S: No. She could do with one. She says: ‘Oh I’m away too much’ but she goes nowhere.
S: The original storyline in Corrie was that I was to get Eileen pregnant. But Sue didn’t want that because if you get pregnant on a soap you don’t get a storyline for two years cos you’re lumbered with a baby. It would have been too confusing for my mum anyway, to see her grandchild living in Manchester.
J: Any more TV planned?
S: No. I’m doing the two shows in Edinburgh and that’s enough. If all the stars were aligned I’d possibly re-think of doing Sean’s Show, but I’m worried that it would ruin the legacy, unless it seemed absolutely right.
J: That might be a bit like The Smiths re-forming.
S: I’d love to know what the character is up to now. But it would be a huge costly thing and I wouldn’t do it unless everything is in place.
J: Would you play him? Sean as an older man?
S: Well yeah, I’d have to! It would be an absolute joy to see what he’s up to now. I’m not going to do a panel show or anything like that now. But it means less people come see the show. It’s diminishing returns when you’re not on TV. It’s a fact of life and you’ve got to deal with it.
[Sweep digs. Sean: ‘Have you found the body, Sweep? Is the body down there, yeah? Good boy!’]
J: How was BBC6Music?
S: It was great, I loved it. I had a contract for a year, doing Sundays and they said: ‘Would you please play three tracks off the playlist every hour?’ And I said, ‘No.’ and they said: ‘Well we’re not renewing your contract then unless you do that.’ That wasn’t me being an a*rse that was just about the music. I said I’d rather not do it if one of the tracks I have to play is Stereophonics. If I had been doing it everyday, of course I would have done it but not when it’s a Sunday special show. The last song I played was ‘I don’t mind if you forget me’ by Morrissey, containing the lyrics: ‘Rejection is one thing, but rejection from a fool is cruel.’ Then the producer said that they cut it when they put it on the Internet and so that song wasn’t in there.
J: My last interview was with Shaun Keaveny. Did you ever meet him?
S: Yeah, a great guy.
J: Very funny man.
S: I knew Craig Charles from when he did poetry on the circuit.
J: Tell me some of your favourite Smiths/Morrissey tracks.
S: It’s a weird one, cos if you put Morrissey’s solo career up against The Smiths, Morrissey solo wins now. If you’re going to pick your best ten Smiths songs versus your best ten Morrissey songs, Morrissey would win.
J: How did you get into The Smiths?
S: I was a real Johnny-Come-Lately. My mate got there first. But it became an addiction really. I wasn’t as obsessed as the guy from Sean’s Show.
S: I was really thrilled when Morrissey asked if he could use one of my quotes from the show. I said: ‘Sometimes I feel like Morrissey. I feel like a man trapped in a man’s body’. So that’s in some book somewhere.
[Sweep growls. Sean: ‘Alright Sweep are you in cranky mood today, are ya? You got the stick? You showing him who’s the boss, yeah? With your little twig.’ Sean addresses the passing dog: ‘He’s the master! He’s not an old man! He’s got the big stick!’]
S: Morrissey was a big influence on the way I was. When I was nineteen I shared a dressing room with The Smiths on a TV show in Ireland. It was quite intense. Have you ever noticed how Morrissey looks like George Best? It’s in the eyes.
J: I haven’t, ever noticed that, no. I’ll have a closer look.
S: He does, he really does, look in the eyes!
The Best eyes
J: Can you tell us about the interview with Morrissey on GLR?
S: It was the first time I’ve really been nervous about something in a while. I don’t think it was a great interview, because every time I was saying something I was like: ‘Morrissey is sitting beside me!’
S: I think he is a very beautiful looking man as well. Morrissey intrigues me. I remember the first time I met him was in Camden, he was with Stephen Street. We had never met but we were both aware of each other so we stopped. I said to him, one of my favourite songs is Speedway and the album Vauxhall and I. But you know that Why don’t you find out for yourself, that lyric ‘bad scenes come and go’ I said to him: ‘I always thought it was ‘bad seeds’, which is a much better line. [sings] ‘Bad seeds come and go, for which you must allow!’
J: You have a lovely singing voice.
S: I can sing quite well. This is the question that you should ask every Morrissey fan: Would you let Morrissey come and live in your house?
J: Would you?
J: I have written a short fictional/comedy story about when Morrissey came to my house.
S: I do have to get on with my own life as well, Julie. I’m now reading plays of yours, short stories, I’ve got two shows to prepare for, I can’t be reading all your stuff all the time…
[Betty searches for her ball and can’t find it. Sean: ‘Betty! Over there! Your ball is over there! Over there!’ Betty goes and finds the ball].
J: If Morrissey came into this park and walked up to you right now and said: ‘Alright Sean?’ What would you say?
S: I’d be perfectly happy to go for a coffee with him or something. When I met him and he said: ‘Alright Hughes’ I thought that was cantankerous.
J: You’re not over that? I think it’s quite affectionate!
S: I will always have an endearing love for Morrissey.
J: So if he was coming to your house what snacks would you put out for him?
S: Whatever’s in the fridge. I wouldn’t make a fuss.
J: What’s in the fridge?
S: Potatoes… No, you know I had an allergy test that says mushrooms don’t agree with me.
J: That’s all them stews.
S: I don’t know what he eats. What does he eat?
J: He doesn’t like spicy food, from what I know he used to be fond of eggs. And chips. But I suspect he likes more than just that, these days.
S: I suppose he could share my stew.
J: Will you write a note for my mum?
S: I will. Tell her that Peter Davidson is a really lovely fella. What’s the name of her dog?
J: We’ll do your favourite things then go get a coffee.
S: Yeah I’ll buy you a coffee.
J: No it’s alright I’ve got a tenner.
S: Strictly speaking that’s not yours.
J: I’m not going to give her the exact same tenner back. I’ll send her a Scottish tenner. [I forgot my wallet, and borrowed a tenner from a random woman, but that’s another story…]
S: That’ll cheer her up. Did you see me do the ‘Morrissey mike’ on the show?
[‘Morrissey mike’ = flick the wire up while making a point].
J: I did!
S: [sings] ‘And when you SLAM (pretends to flick mike) down the hammer….’
J: We [@marys_daughter and I] thoroughly enjoyed your show the other night.
S: Thanks. If you see it again it’ll be slightly different. When I do the ginger nuts bit I’m going to get some marshmallows and hand them like out shots. But they’re marshmallows. Let’s do shots!
J: I like it when you lose your thread through the show then just spend five minutes talking to an audience member.
S: In Edinburgh I can only do an hour. I’m going to leave out a different section every night. It’s such an important part of the show that chatting with the audience bit, I need to keep that. The ‘Father’ show is quite heavy. It’s a narrative, so I have to do that word for word. That’s why I’m doing a second show, to let loose.
J: What’s your favourite breed of dog?
S: Ah it would have to be a Heinz Beans really. All my dogs have been from Battersea. Even though this one (Betty) was pissin’ on my kitchen floor this morning. She gets excited; I don’t think she knows she’s doing it.
J: You might want to let her out every now and then…
S: She did it when the door was open! That’s what annoyed me.
[Betty paces around Sweep. Sean: Sweepie! You know you’re sittin’ on the ball don’t you?]
S: Do you like the Brotherhood of Man?
J: I can’t remember their songs.
S: ‘Save all your kisses for me’ was one….
J: Oh yes, I do.
S: They had one about Fernando I think…
J: Wasn’t that Abba?
S: No, it wasn’t ‘can you hear the drums Fernando’ it was more like: ‘there was something in the air that night…’
J: That’s the same song.
J: What’s your favourite thing your mum says?
S: She says: ‘Do you understand?’ at the end of every sentence.
J: And do you?
S: Only too well.
J: Favourite pizza topping?
S: I don’t eat pizza anymore. I’m allergic to cheese. With any cheese I just sweat here (points to his cheeks) for a minute.
J: You get the cheese sweats.
S: Yeah. But I like cheese. I guess the best pizza is a DEAD PIZZA.
J: Favourite biscuit?
S: Anything involving ginger. Ginger blueberry biscuits. Marks and Spencer do some really nice ones.
J: My mum loves ginger.
S: Are you trying to set me up with your mum? What would your dad say? ‘All right Mister? I’m just taking Sally and Pat out for a walk!’
J: What’s your favourite thing to do on a Friday night?
S: It certainly isn’t going out.
J: Good! Will you host the @Mozarmyquiz for us one week?
J: You can do it from your chair - it’s on twitter.
S: No. I won’t do that. I catch up on my Sky Plus stuff. Last Friday I watched the Bowie night. I’m a bit of a Maltesers person in front of the tele.
J: Box or bag?
S: Sainsbury’s have been doing the bag quite cheaply lately. PART-EH!!!
J: What would you drink with that?
S: Peppermint tea.
J: I love that.
S: How many cups do you drink?
J: I could easily drink four or five cups.
S: I drink ten a day.
J: I drink twenty.
S: I think I have an addictive personality. I like ginger tea as well.
J: My sister taught me how to make fresh ginger tea. Do you do that?
S: No, I have the tea bags.
J: Peel and chop fresh ginger. Add hot water. Delicious.
S: I love a bit of ginger. How do you boil eggs now Julie? Can you explain that to me?
S: I have a lovely Japanese teapot. Maybe I could put the ginger in the thing and do that.
J: Favourite childhood toy?
S: Six Million Dollar Man Doll.
J: Favourite trousers?
S: Cords. I don’t like jeans. I’ve never liked jeans. They’re a bit hard on my knees.
J: Were you not wearing those cords on Sunday?
S: Yeah, I was - you can get a good 4-5 days out of cords before you need to wash them.
J: What’s your favourite crisp flavour?
S: Salt and Vinegar. Why? What did you have me down for?
J: Something a bit more exotic – a pickled onion or Worcester sauce, maybe.
S: I try not to eat crisps. I think everything about them is bad for you.
J: And they clash with Maltesers.
S: Exactly. Put ‘balsamic’ obviously.
J: Favourite Morrissey song?
S: I went to the Forum to see him and I told him that Ordinary Boys was my highlight. The next night I went and he played it as the encore!
J: See? He does listen to you!
S: Who knows? I like Why don’t you find out for yourself and Speedway.
J: Favourite Smiths song?
S: Jeane. [Sings] All the alcoholic afternoons…
J: These Things Take Time?
J: You were just singing These Things Take Time.
S: That wasn’t Jeane? Am I actually having a stroke? [sings] that had more worth… than any…
S: Actually put Meat Is Murder
J: Good choice. Do you know how Jeane goes?
S: Yeah, like this [sings] All the alcoholic afternoons…
If you like Maltesers on a Friday night and stew for dinner you can follow Sean Hughes on twitter @Mr_SeanHughes.
You can also go see him at the Edinburgh Festival this August. He is doing two shows, ‘Life Becomes Noises’ about the death of his dad:
and ‘Sean Hughes stands up’ - the one that I went to see at Udderbelly:
If you’re lucky you might get a ginger nut or a cuddle.
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