Hal Cruttenden, the slightly camp, very middle class and precisely middle aged comic, is wearing a thin grey sweater and a pair of jeans, sipping delicately at his morning coffee: black with two sugars. At least, that’s what I imagine, as I dial the number that I’ve been instructed to call at 11am on a sunny Tuesday, feeling almost as if I’m receiving covert intel from a turncoat in a drugs operation. I expect to go through his agent, but a chirpy, pronounced English voice answers the call: that’ll be the coffee.
Hal has been on our television screens intermittently for quite a few years now, and making fun of his own pomposity for nearer twenty five. With appearances on the Royal Variety Show, Live at The Apollo and The Michael McIntyre Comedy Roadshow, he’s a comic who is wonderful at his craft. Interestingly he has managed, intentionally or not, to avoid the limelight which shines on comedians such as the aforementioned McIntyre.
Cruttenden seems to be finding more to be angry with in the latter half of middle age, which forms the basis for his upcoming tour, ‘Straight Outta Cruttenden’.
So…the name of the tour…are you a fan of NWA?
I used to be when I was younger, but I had no idea about the new biopic about them when I was naming the tour, I just thought it sounded funny. I have started listening to them again recently though. I have to tell my teenage daughter to cover her ears for certain lyrics. Especially the misogynistic ones. I’m enjoying it more and more, it captures the sort of anger I’m feeling in my later years, although theirs is obviously a very different sort of anger. I like a good rant, and they’re very good at that.
Is there any rapping in your new show?
No. Can you imagine me rapping?
Your comedy is centered around your middle class persona. Is the title of this tour an indication of trying to access a new audience?
Not at all. My jokes are very much focused on the middle class, and being middle aged, but I don’t think that limits them to an audience in a similar lifestyle. I remember seeing comics talk about similar topics when I was seventeen, and I was still rolling about in laughter. If you’re constantly trying to please people, it’ll always result in failure. You just have to write what’s funny, what’s honest. Be yourself, and it’ll always be funnier than anything else. Audiences can sense the truth, and that’s always funnier for them. But you can never guess what an audience will enjoy, which is why you have to enjoy it. I’m very angry and ranty at the moment, which is why I’ve taken inspiration from NWA. I hate people who are positive about being middle aged. Youth is incredible. That’s how I feel, so that’s what I’m writing about.
What’s your writing process?
I tend to have general ideas as I go about my day, then I write them down and expand upon them. The best jokes are always the ones that just occur to me, rather than sitting down and writing. But I do use a techinique called ‘Rant and Rave’, where I essentially pick a topic and write down all the things I hate about it, then expand on the funny bits. Lots of my jokes are almost answers to things that I feel bad about.
You started your career as an actor. Have you ever thought about going back into acting?
I have at times, but I’d never be able to give up comedy. I find out so much about myself during the writing, and I think it’s almost something that I need. There are lots of brilliant comics who moved on and just can’t go back. Graham Norton was a wonderful comic, and I told him that when I met him, but he explained that he simply doesn’t have time to do any stand up anymore. I could never do something like that. Coming up with a new joke, trying it out, and getting exactly the response you wanted: that’s one of the best feelings there is.
How do you feel about more offensive material, both coming from other comics and within your own routines?
I never try to be offensive; you never know if your jokes are [offensive] until you try them. These days, Twitter usually makes sure you know if you’ve offended someone. But honestly, I just write what I think is funny and then see what happens. I have a joke in my current routine that could be quite outrageous, but I’m the butt of the joke, so I think it’s ok. There’s a balance between humour and offense, and as long as the offense is towards the comic, I don’t think it’s too bad. Comedy needs to tackle reality, and taboo subjects need to be discussed. I think it’s important that as comedians we discuss things that people shy away from, but it needs to be in the right way. There’s a subtlety to it that I think a lot of people forget.
What can we expect from ‘Straight Outta Cruttenden’? What’s the tagline?
A recent reviewer said ‘This must certainly put him in the Premier League of comedians’, which was quite nice. I suppose the tagline would be: “You will laugh for one and a bit hours. Probably at things you’ll be surprised you’re laughing at. And if you don’t laugh, I don’t do refunds. Sorry”.