‘I haven’t watched TV since 1987’: interview with Australian comedian Steve Hughes
Outspoken, thought-provoking, highly talkative and, most importantly, laugh-out-loud funny, self-confessed conspiracy theorist Steve Hughes is arguably one of the finest comic talents working today.
The internationally renowned Australian stand-up comedian, previously seen on the BBC’s Live at the Apollo and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow, kicked off his first UK comedy tour in seven years last Wednesday (September 22) in Cardiff. The tour – titled Are You Serious? – will reach Cambridge on October 9.
An icon of heavy metal music, Steve’s first solo project is Eternum, for which he wrote all of the songs and then recorded them alone, having taught himself to play the guitar. He is a drummer ‘by trade’. Eternum was released late last year and will be available on vinyl from October 16.
Steve’s views on conspiracies, freedoms and all things controversial are well known, making for an entertaining and very interesting conversation. The Cambridge Independent caught up with this larger-than life character as he was writing out a comedy set for a small club gig he had later that day.
While some comedians follow what’s happening in the news and go from there, Steve is not one of them. “I don’t watch the news, I can’t believe human beings can put themselves through that,” he says. “I haven’t watched TV since 1987. I’ve watched videos – I’ve watched Blackadder and The Young Ones and movies but I don’t watch TV.
“I can’t watch ads – my entire soul feels insulted, so whatever’s happening in the news, I haven’t seen it for one second... They’re liars – they told you there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they’ll say anything.”
Steve notes that the extent to which a particular performance is improvised depends on his audience. “If I’m going to do a tour show, I have the hour and a half down in my head, if I’m lucky,” he explains, “because that way then perhaps you can go and improvise. If I know what I’m doing, I can go ‘off-road’.
“I like improvising, it’s good. People think, ‘Oh you must be so skilled to improvise’. Yeah, there is that but it’s more difficult to put it into material. It’s like writing songs; you can sit there and jam together all night – no-one tells you what to do, you just start playing and follow the drummer.
“It’s harder to write a catchy track that everybody likes than it is to just jam out – even though I know musicians who can’t jam out either!”
Although he was born in Sydney, Steve has always been very much aware of his English roots. “My father’s English and my stepmother was English so I kind of grew up in an English house anyway,” he recalls. “My father didn’t adorn a pair of shorts and start watching football, drinking beer and just riding around being an idiot.
“So I’m eating Yorkshire puddings and toad-in-the-hole and there’s English stuff around when I’m growing up, because you’re a colonist. I was doing comedy once in Sweden and I was watching the Swedish guys and I thought to myself, ‘I wonder what it’s like to be from the country that you’re from?’
“Like I’m a Swedish guy with Swedish parents with Swedish grandparents with Swedish great great-grandparents. Maybe someone married a French chick along the way but basically I’m in Sweden with Swedish blood.
“Australians and Americans and Canadians – they’re colonists. Where are you from? What am I? I’m just a white guy living on stolen land in the middle of Asia. So the whole culture there [in Australia] was very shallow and stupid to me. It was ignorant, it was boring, it was conservative...
“People don’t take on board what’s bad about Australia because they’re not programmed to look at anything bad about it, and this also goes back to the fact that they’re in a country that’s committed genocide on an indigenous people, and that’s a dark collective shadow which must be looked at if you wish to heal that – and they don’t look at that, it’s never looked at, it’s ignored.
“Don’t get me wrong, if you want to go and look at the land, it’s stunning. If you want to, you can still go on a desert exploration – and die! You can go and live in a rainforest or sit next to a beach... The place is paradise in that sense.”
A founding member of Slaughter Lord – one of Australia’s first thrash metal bands – in the ’80s, Steve has since performed with other bands, including Australia’s most internationally recognised metal act of the era, Mortal Sin.
But he moved to Ireland in 1999 to pursue a career in stand-up. Steve then relocated to London in 2000 and then lived in Manchester until about 2014. “Then I went back to Oz to have a meltdown and a dark night of the soul for about seven years,” he states, “and then I came back here to do a tour and they shut the world...
“I don’t think this [the pandemic] is over by any stretch of the imagination for everybody – no way.”
The “meltdown” to which Steve refers came about due to years of fast living, though he is now on the mend. “I got over that,” he says, “seven years of shamans and getting those filthy psych meds that I stupidly took out of me... you can do it.”
He adds: “That’s what’s great about being a conspiracy theorist, I didn’t want to be on pysch meds anyway; I had a massive adrenal fatigue breakdown, basically, just from total exhaustion – 30 years of running amok – and that gives you depression.”
Steve does feel, however, that some positives came out of the whole experience. “In one sense, even though it was a dark night of the soul, it woke me up,” he explains. “I realised I was a robot that had read 5,000 conspiracy theory books thinking I knew things – I had knowledge but I had no wisdom.”
Despite his troubles, Steve seems emphatically ‘on form’ and is looking forward to his gig at the Junction. He says he will be addressing his mental health issues in Are You Serious? “I’m going to, for sure, because I wrote a show about it back in Oz because I had a sort of reprieve from it [the breakdown] in about 2016 – so I’ll include some of that in this show.”