Purist Lee proves he's not too scared to leave the house with real stand-up
Whatever happened to Lee Hurst? It's a question that some comedy fans might have asked given that the former panellist on They Think It's All Over hasn't performed a full tour for a decade.
He did dip his toes into the live waters with a series of shows last year – Man Vs Woman – and he's been busy running his own comedy club in London.
Now he's back with a full tour called Too Scared To Leave The House which aims to tackle the things that frighten us. "It could be about literally anything from global disasters to spiders to fear of dying or relationships: anything you can think of that bothers you," says Lee.
"With Man Vs Woman, I had a bit of a debacle when I lost all the notes so I had to change it into something entirely different; I had stuff in my head but not enough to sustain it for a whole second half so I changed it to get the men in the audience writing something down about women and vice versa.
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"I won't say it was a stroke of genius, it was a necessity, but it was so much fun. Whenever I got an audience to write questions before, if you give them too broad a subject, they can't think, but Man Vs Woman had them focussed.
"Maybe the canvas is too wide on this new one. What I need is a good sales pitch before the interval." Lee Hurst is someone who has always done things a little differently.
Shunning the usual route of ploughing every last penny into an annual jaunt to Edinburgh in August ("I just stayed in London and cleaned up because all the comics had gone there"), he made his breakthrough as the warm-up act for the Have I Got News For You? audience. That led to appearances on that show which led into showing off his sharp wit on BBC sports quiz They Think It's All Over for six seasons.
His main project in recent times has been running his own venue, The Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green. It's been closed for a massive redevelopment (a seven-storey building which will feature a hotel as well as his revamped comedy club).
"I'm a bit of a construction geek so I'm always bugging the foreman of the site but he knows that I'm genuinely interested and won't be pointing at my watch saying 'why is this taking so long?'" says Lee.
He hopes to have the venture up and running at the start of 2013. It had better be, as he has a date on his tour scheduled there for February 10.
Lee says he's gratified to see some of the old-school 90s comedians back on the touring circuit again – Alan Davies has just emerged from a successful Edinburgh run and plunged into a nationwide tour while Jack Dee and Harry Hill are both back doing live work.
"I was doing a set in the West End recently and Jack Dee turned up to do five minutes and he had some lovely stuff. Harry Hill did one of the last nights of my old club and he was as nervous as hell, pacing up and down. The other acts were on and you could hear this hollow sound of his boots: boom, boom boom. He said to me, 'why do we do it?' Well, he went on and tore the place up and as he came off I said, 'that's why we do it'.
"I'm a bit of an old-fashioned purist: if you write your own material, you're a stand-up comic; if you've got writers, then you're an actor.
"My attitude is that if it came to the point where I couldn't write any more it would be time to step aside and let others have a go. But if it's not about the money, what is the point in doing it?
"I had a gig the other Saturday night and I ran round the corner to another club and said 'can I do five?' and they went 'yeah sure', and I did the same with another club nearby and I was having a ball. I should have been doing this ages ago, just bedding in some material I'd written. The buzz for me is coming up with a gag, going on and nailing it and that's a great feeling."