INTERVIEW: Tony Glynn chats to Hal Cruttenden ahead of his show Tough Luvvie at the Plough
A unique mix of dark, warm and catty humour has Hal Cruttenden tipped as the next big thing in comedy. Tony Glynn chatted to him.
HE'S tough, but he's a luvvie. Picture this person: perhaps it's hellraiser Richard Harris who, when not wearing tights, was starting fights. Or maybe it's Russell Crowe, singing in musicals one minute and leading a Roman army the next. In his latest show, Tough Luvvie, Hall Cruttenden probes the differences between his camp, audience-friendly exterior and his tougher instincts as a stand-up.
The term "tough luvvie" refers to two things: his history as an actor (ie luvvie) and his tendency to be straight (as in tough) in discussing subjects. On another level, it's a reaction to his camp, cuddly image in the eyes of some.
"A long time ago someone shouted out 'you're gay' during a show," says Hal, recalling his early days in stand-up. "I thought 'no I'm not, not that there's anything wrong with that of course'.
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"When I was a kid I wanted to play football and all the boys things, but I was a softly-spoken kid and just knew I would never be Bruce Willis.
"I think camper, more effeminate men know how they sound from an early age. But I camp it up on purpose as a defence mechanism, and think a lot of other comics do too."
Hal cites Alan Carr, Graham Norton and Bruce Forsyth as examples of such, but stresses that his campness is somewhat tamer. He may be camp at times, but he doesn't want it to be the centrepiece of his act.
He is married with two children, although – he admits – every other inhabitant of his house (including pets) is female. And he grew up in a house full of women too, so it's no wonder some femininity has rubbed off.
The "tough" side of Hal's character, however, is undoubtedly his direct, speak-his-mind approach on a vast array of subjects. It's difficult to say what "kind" of comedian Cruttenden is because he doesn't tie himself to any particluar themes, preferring to just speak about whatever's been on his mind. As it happens, though, whatever's on his mind – be it Facebook, footballers or food – is usually quite topical.
But topics aside, a major aspect to Hal's work is the concept of stereotyping. As someone assumed to be gay he is as subject to it as anyone but – as all good comics do – he uses his talent to fight the monster head-on.
The ugly beast of being misunderstood, however, is never far away for a comic who uses irony to make a point. Even in a nation that claims to own sarcasm, there are still one or two who get mixed up about who the comedian is laughing at.
"When I make jokes about, say, Northerners being all poor, salt of the Earth 'real' people and Southerners being all stuck up and rude to each other, it's the stereotypes I'm laughing at. I think most people know this.
"But sometimes there's the odd one who thinks I actually am anti-whatever, and there's nothing you can do about that."
"But anyone who knows me knows I'm not especially from one place or am one thing really, so I suppose that's why I'm so interested in all these stereotypes, which are all rubbish of course."
But Hal is clear about things he will not joke about, and as well as trying to steer clear of jokes about individual people he also disapproves of using the "shock" factor to entertain. His intention is not to offend but rather expose the comedy in what he sees.
Like many stand-ups Hal Cruttenden has a variety of skills, and as well as acting he also writes for television and radio and has appeared on Mock The Week, The 11 O'Clock Show and others. Bizarrely, he describes himself as "shy" when not on stage.
"Sometimes I feel like running off and never performing again. I love the thought of writing away in a little cottage like John Sullivan who wrote Only Fools And Horses.
"I'm quite shy in social situations like parties, but the stage is just work for me. Although performers get all the nerves beforehand, we're much better equipped because it's what we've learned to cope with. It's just something we have to do."
Besides accolades from fans, press and fellow comics, anyone who has watched Hal Cruttenden perform will see that he "copes" quite well with these stage nerves.
Yet he hasn't let praise go to his head and could never be accused of arrogance. He just says what he needs to say.
Perhaps a dose of honesty, peppered with a dash of camp friendliness, is the sort of tough luvvie we all need.
Hal Cruttenden: Tough Luvvie is at The Plough Arts Centre, Torrington on Friday, September 20, 8pm. Tickets: £15. Box office: 01805 624624, www.theploughartscentre.org.uk.