Heat have heard that Harry Hill isn’t a huge fan of doing interviews. So when we arrange to meet the comedian/actor/writer/painter, we’re worried we’ll have a bit of a fiiiight (apologies non-TV Burp fans) on our hands. But he has agreed to pose next to a model village wearing a suit made of fake grass, so surely he can’t be that difficult?
When Harry (real name Matthew Hall), 48, arrives at our shoot, he makes a low-key entrance wearing an overcoat and flat cap and politely introduces himself to everyone. He seems cheery enough. Despite being keen to keep his personal life under wraps, he’s friendly, relaxed and naturally very funny, and we laugh a lot.
Having fronted the incredible TV Burp for ten years and bagged countless comedy awards along the way, he’s going back to his stand-up roots and embarking on a nationwide Harry Hill’s Sausage Time tour. Oh yeah, and he’s currently writing X Factor: The Musical…
You’re currently writing X Factor: The Musical. Er, WTF?
Two years ago I was watching the final, drunk, and I decided it would be great to do a musical of it. I phoned my friend Steve Brown, who has written musicals before, and told him the idea. He didn’t sound convinced, but the next day I called up Peter Fincham, who runs ITV, and said, “How can I get this idea to Simon Cowell?” He was seeing Simon the following day and he called me back the next night and said that Simon was interested. Simon had actually been thinking about doing it himself.
Is it scary to do something totally different?
I’ve gone into it with this blind enthusiasm, not really thinking about it, but I’m very excited. Steve and I have come up with this crazy plot. I can’t tell you too much, because it would spoil it, but there’s a hunchback and an alien. We pitched it to Simon and he was laughing his head off. I was thinking, “This is too easy”. Then at the end he said, “When can we do it?” We’re hoping to open it this time next year.
Who’s going to play Simon Cowell?
Well, that’s the big question…
Would you do it?
I haven’t got a good enough voice. Whoever plays him needs to be able to sing and we need a star name. We want to make it as funny as going to see a really good stand-up, but with great songs, too.
What did you think of last year’s X Factor? Did the right person win?
I never really worry about who wins, because you don’t have to win to have a career, but I thought the singers were really good. I’d seen Rylan in [Living TV Reality series] Signed By Katie Price and I was thinking, “Oh God, not him,” but I started to like him. I wish Christopher Maloney’s hissy fit had been on camera. I’d love to have seen that. I couldn’t really work him out. I thought he was playing something he wasn’t.
We agree. So, you’re heading back on tour…
Yes, and I haven’t toured for six or seven years, basically because I was so greedy with the TV.
Isn’t stand-up terrifying?
Harry doing stand-up in 1992
It’s nerve-wracking, but once you know what works, it’s OK. But there’s a part of me that quite enjoys people not liking bits and then trying to win them back over.
What are the worst heckles you’ve had?
I’ve had some “Get offs!” And one guy who walked on to the stage in his pants.
Are you tempted to swear lots or be more controversial with stand-up?
[Shakes his head.] Not really. I can get away with a lot, anyway. When I was doing TV Burp, someone said we were the rudest show on TV because there was a lot of innuendo. But you can get away with a lot if you say it with a smile.
What do you think of the controversy over “shock” comedians like Frankie Boyle and Jack Whitehall?
I think there’s room for everyone. I like those two guys and it’s all been blown out of proportion. When some of the things they say are written down they do look really harsh, but it’s not always about the words, it’s about the moment. If people are just saying things to shock, it’s boring. You want people to say things because they’re funny.
Do you know them both?
I’ve met Jack Whitehall and he’s a nice bloke. [Pauses.] I like to think that the older you are, the funnier you are, so I really resent great young comedians. Especially if they’re good-looking.
Do you miss TV Burp?
I don’t. I probably did it for a couple of years longer than I should have done for my own sanity.
We’re missing it a lot…
I do miss watching it, and I was hoping that someone else would take over. I was talking to [stand-up comedian] Micky Flanagan, and I was hoping he would do it. It’s a lot of work, though. I’m the only mug that would do it.
Have you been asked to go on any Reality shows?
I was offered I’m A Celeb… years ago. I always say that if there’s any chance of me being filmed in my pants, I draw the line. I was asked to do Hell’s Kitchen and I said to them, “You won’t be able to film in my house,” and they replied, “That’s OK, you’ll all be living the same house.” At which point I said, “Let’s leave it there…”
Would you ever do CBB?
I got into comedy because I was interested in doing funny things and probably – early on – because I wanted to be well known. As time’s gone on, I’ve realised that being well known has its upsides and downsides, and if I’m going to be well-known for something, I want it to be something I’m proud of. Also, I’m not very entertaining as a normal bloke. I’m not like Lee Mack. I’d just be grumpy.
What’s happened to The Knitted Character on TV Burp?
I think he’s in a plastic bag in my loft. I don’t know what he did for Christmas. He’s not actually very friendly; he’s a bit difficult. He’s got a bit of a drink problem.
Has TV Burp ruined TV for you?
A bit. I’m detoxing at the moment. I never thought I would be able to watch filler shows like Grand Designs or A Place In The Sun again, but my wife [illustrator Magda Archer] likes them, so I’m slowly getting back into them. I’ll always watch The X Factor, though, and I’m very into Breaking Bad at the moment. It’s about a chemistry teacher who goes off the rails and starts making crystal meth. I was really keen on chemistry as a kid and it’s made me interested again. You heard it here first – I’m going to be a drug dealer.
Even though TV Burp is over, are your amazing white shirts staying?
Yes. I’ve got two teenagers and a little one [Kitty, 15, Winnie, 14, and Frederica, eight], and they don’t like me being on TV. So when I said I was giving up TV Burp they said, “Great! What are you going to do with those shirts?” And I said, “I’ll still be Harry Hill. How do you think I’ll earn any money?”
Changing the subject, you’re a qualified doctor. Have you had any moments when you’ve thought, “S**t, I shouldn’t have given up being a doctor to become a comedian”?
Oh, all the time. For the first couple of years I’d wake up in a cold sweat. If I had a good gig, I’d think, “Yeah, screw you!” and if I’d had a bad gig, I’d think, “What have I done? I’ve thrown away my career.”
Have you ever had to use your skills on strangers?
Yes. I was once on a plane from Amsterdam and they said over the tannoy, “Is there a doctor on board?” As I walked down the aisle people were saying, “Go on Harry, sort him out.” It was very embarrassing. But the guy had basically taken too many drugs and was having a panic attack.
He must have thought he was tripping when Harry Hill turned up claiming to be a doctor…
Well, exactly. It could have finished him off. I made sure he was alright, then as I walked back to my seat everyone applauded me. I don’t think I would step in again, though. I trained around 20 years ago and I’m probably dangerous now!
Tickets for Harry Hill’s Sausage Time tour are on sale now at Harryhilllive.com or 0844 248 5199