You’ve got to be doing something right as a stand-up comedian if your latest UK tour has to be extended due to popular demand. After taking two years off from touring, Hal Cruttenden couldn’t have asked for a better welcome back.
“It’s fantastic,” says the good-natured comic who is appearing at Scarborough’s Spa theatre this weekend. “You do spend a lot of time making sure that you produce a good show, so it is really exciting when you get that kind of positive feedback.”
The show, The Chubster (he asked his teenage daughters what title would best sum him up and that’s what they, a little cruelly, came up with) was a big hit at the Edinburgh Festival last summer and Cruttenden has been on the road with it since September. It features, as you might expect, plenty of observational comedy about being a slightly overweight, middle-aged, middle-class father but does also touch on more challenging subjects such as suicide, obesity, the death of loved ones and, inevitably, Brexit and Trump.
After a couple of decades as a stand-up comedian, Cruttenden says he feels as though he has grown into himself. “I think with comedy you become more and more at ease with yourself as time goes on. I started out 20 years ago being really jolly and sweet and nice, but I think you gradually become more yourself the better you get at comedy and you allow yourself to express yourself more.
“Now I can talk about the more important stuff – death and things that upset us.”
His style could still be described as “jolly and sweet” and as a performer he comes across as a warm, unthreatening presence. This chatty, non-confrontational approach allows him to lull an audience into a false sense of security before then delivering a killer punchline, as anyone who has seen his television appearances on programmes such as Have I Got News for You, Mock the Week or Live at the Apollo will know.
“I suppose I do get away with things,” he says, chuckling. “There is something about having this chubby face and a soft voice that psychologically makes people feel comfortable, plus I do naturally tend to laugh nervously quite a lot, so I am a kind of childish middle-aged man – people think I can’t possibly say anything horrible.”
In The Chubster his material is sometimes edgy. “I’m not saying the kind of things that Frankie Boyle might but I am talking gently about things that are quite dark. I talk about the death of my parents in the first 10-15 minutes of the show; I think it’s often the things we are most afraid of that we like to laugh at.” He has been thinking a lot about offensiveness in comedy recently, he says, as an idea for a possible documentary.
“At some point someone is going to tell a joke about something that has affected your life and you may be offended by it,” he says. “We are such a sensitive society now and I think that is generally a good thing – there are jokes I have done in the last few years that I wouldn’t do now, you need to approach it in a sensitive manner.”
Having started out as an actor – he trained at the Central School of Speech and Drama after studying at the University of York – Cruttenden has had several roles in film, on stage, television and radio, but performing comedy is, he says, something quite special. “I did stand-up for a few years, thinking of myself as a ‘failed’ actor but then I remember seeing Eddie Izzard perform and I thought ‘that’s what I want to do’.
“The joy of making an audience laugh, when it first happens, is amazing. You play the circuit for years but then touring your own show – when it is just you for two hours and you have the audience all to yourself – that is the best thing ever.”
Hal Cruttenden, the Spa Theatre, Scarborough, March 31. Tickets www.halcruttenden.com/tour