Andy Hamilton is Outnumbered by his comedy hits
- Credit: Archant
The panel show star and writer of hit comedies tells BRIDGET GALTON about his latest stand up show
He’s played Satan and Captain Squid the pirate in Peppa Pig, but Andy Hamilton is probably better recognised as a contestant on panel shows like QI and Have I Got News For You.
But his most enduring contribution to comedy is the co-creation of TV shows including, Drop the Dead Donkey, Outnumbered and Ballot Monkeys.
The Cambridge graduate started out at the dawn of Thatcherism in 1979 on legendary satirical sketch show Not The Nine O’Clock News as part of a stellar writing team that included Clive Anderson and Richard Curtis.
Set in fictional TV news offices in the 90s, Drop the Dead Donkey sent up the dumbing down of broadcast current affairs, and more recently Ballot Monkeys followed party political lackeys gearing up to the 2015 general election with the follow up Power Monkeys doing the same for Brexit.
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Speaking shortly after Theresa May called a snap general election, I wondered was there time to mint out another quick Ballot Monkeys before June 8?
“It’s been asked but it’s too close,” he says sounding regretful. You might almost think May had planned it.
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Hamilton sometimes takes a break from the solitary business of writing to perform his stand-up show The Change Management Tour, inspired by his 60th birthday two years ago. It touches on education, childhood, politics, sports and elections but the main theme is the dizzying nature and pace of change.
“I got to 60 and thought ‘maybe I am old enough now to do a retrospective,” he says.
“It’s not a grumpy old man show. All change is a mix of the good and the bad, it’s more an attempt to make sense of it all.”
Every generation, he says, imagines they’re seeing more change than previous generations.
“But there has been an acceleration in recent years. Even young people I talk to feel a little bewildered by the choices that are out there. How we cope with change has become a more live issue than ever.”
Hamilton points out that very few changes are sudden, most are changes of degree.
“Certain changes happen without our really noticing while some changes you can’t help noticing - like the fact that no-one looks where they are going any more because they are walking with their heads down looking at a screen.”
His topic is the “massive mushrooming of information” both from the outside world and that generated by ourselves - an interesting topic for a man who “doesn’t do Twitter or Facebook”.
“I work on the principle that if it’s important I will get to hear about it.”
And that’s precisely his point. Even if you are quietly minding your own business “the world kicks your door down.”
Having repeatedly satirised what The Donald might call “the mainstream media” how does he view Trump’s cry of fake news?
“It’s all a con of course,” he says referring to the demonising of journalists.
“I think we are in the middle of a very odd, unsettling period with Trump, Le Pen and a regression from liberal democracy towards dangerous autocrats. That was a trend I hadn’t seen coming. There’s lots to write about but it feels a bit darker. The stakes are higher than in ‘79 when I was writing Not The Nine O’clock News or even 1990 with Drop The Dead Donkey.”
But doesn’t he and co-writer Guy Jenkin trade in making journalists and politicians look ridiculous?
“We have always written about the oily rags. In Donkey it was newsroom staff trying to get this show on air often under extreme pressures. With Power Monkeys we showed the back room staff who had to enact the ludicrous decisions of their superiors. Yes we depict them comically, but we are sympathetic. What they all have in common is a heroic stoicism.”
You could say the same for beleaguered Chiswick parents Sue and Pete Brockman who have helped childrearers everywhere feel better about the constant failure and guilt of parenting. When I tell the father-of-three how much cheerier I feel after watching Outnumbered he says: “Then our work here is done.”
“We started writing it when mine and Guy Jenkins’ kids were younger as a personal backlash against the parenting industry. The view we took, which is a line we gave to the dad, is there are no great parents. If they get to 18 and are still alive and not in prison you have done ok.”
Meanwhile touring he says, is a nice counterbalance to the solitary “unglamorous” task of writing.
“I am enough of a show-off to enjoy performing and it’s really nice for me to meet in the flesh the people who watch Outnumbered or listen to Old Harry’s Game.” (his Radio 4 comedy set in hell)
Then there are other outings to appear on the likes of Have I Got News For You at which he’s an old hand.
“I read the papers and go into the show with maybe three really good jokes in my head about the main stories. I might not say them all, that depends on how the conversation goes, but at least I have them as a kind of security blanket. When the show flies it’s like a jazz session, only with funny people. But the lovely thing about panel shows is it only needs one of you to be saying something funny at any given moment.”
Andy Hamilton’s The Change Management Tour is at North Finchley’s Arts Depot on May 18 artsdepot.co.uk