Review: Jeremy Hardy @ Oxford Playhouse

This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub

“I was genuinely thinking about giving up talking about mainstream politics”, confesses Jeremy Hardy, before shrugging, flapping his arms out and blithely adding, “but then one of my best mates became leader of the Labour Party.” And so the tone for the evening is set. As Hardy himself puts it, this will be “a full and frank, if almost entirely one-sided discussion about my entrenched socialist views”.

But Hardy is no self-deluding fool. He is anything but, in fact: a throwback, certainly, with a pervading nostalgia for pre-Thatcher Britain and a deep resentment of the neo-liberalist free-market, but one that suddenly finds himself at the very forefront of contemporary politics, rather than dissenting from the backbenches like his comrade Jeremy Corbyn was accustomed to doing before the tectonic shifts of last summer.

An entertainer too, one hardened by over three decades on the comedy circuit and sharpened by regular appearances on The News Quiz and I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue. Despite his unapologetically hard-left views and his self-deprecating geniality, he is a tried and tested stand-up, with a knack for piercing middle-class pretension and an enviable ability to draw apt analogies.

His two-hour set is largely political satire, with wide-ranging comment covering New Labour – “who knew Tony Blair supported the Labour Party?” – tax evasion – “the state should probably demand more money off me but keep your voice down” – the Brexit debate – “Britain is full apparently, but I can tell you that I travel all over the country and most of it is totally f*cking empty” – and more. “You simply can’t have a free-market and a healthy planet,” he comments, “They’re totally incompatible.” The middle-class takes a good-natured bashing, the establishment a more cynical, contemptuous one, and Thatcherism and all its offspring is taken to with a hatchet.

The personal makes an appearance too, with lengthy digressions in the second-half about his upbringing in the soul-crushing suburbs of Surrey, the questionable attitudes of his atrociously conceited friends, and the slow gentrification of his beloved Brixton. There is hugely enjoyable material on the evolution of British cuisine – “the introduction of deep freezers meant that people could pick runner-beans and store them, frozen, for their children to find long after they died” – and the tolerant nature of those that lived through World War II – “My mum lived through the darkest period in this country’s history. A gang of Hell’s Angels fellating each other in a National Trust Gift Shop wouldn’t have shocked her.”

Hardy is well aware that, as a white, male baby boomer making a living as a comedian, he has had it far better than most, and this sense of privilege finds its way out in his charming self-deprecation and occasional turns of frankness. He delivers his material conversationally, almost shambolically, with hands spasmodically shifting from chin to hips, occasionally wafting the air aimlessly to elucidate some point. He, like his friend Corbyn, seems one-hundred per cent genuine, entirely at ease in front of an audience, and a thoroughly decent bloke to boot. Perhaps there is a future for his entrenched socialist views after all.



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