Kieran Hodgson's 75 tackles Britain's history with Europe
We speak to Kieran Hodgson as he brings ’75 – his 2018 Fringe show about Britain's initial forays into Europe – back to Scotland
Recent UK politics seem to have irrevocably divided the nation, with little effort having been made to unite the two sides. An attempt to bring the people together and find common ground through comedy can prove tricky, but Kieran Hodgson’s approach is refreshing in its inclusivity: “I suppose the space that I’m trying to create in the show is one where we’re all blighted by this existential question of Europe, and we’re all in it together regardless of how we feel about it.”
“I’m not much of a preacher when it comes to my comedy shows, so the only thing I try to convey is that this has been going on for longer than you might think, it’s more complicated than you might think, and maybe we should try and give one another less of a hard time over it”. ’75, Hodgson’s fourth solo Fringe show, which he is now touring the UK with, broaches Brexit. But instead of getting too bogged down with Britain’s current relationship with Europe, the show takes us down memory lane with a history of Britain’s attempts to enter the EU in the 70s.
“I had a feeling that the current-day Brexit situation would be liable to these sudden changes, so I thought, ‘Right. I’m not a particularly quick-witted or spontaneous comedian, I’ll do a show that’s just about history.’” However, he admits: “There’s always going to be that instinct in me to spread knowledge, even in a limited way.”
’75 has had the pleasant knock-on effect of imparting knowledge to an audience often new to the facts of 70s British politics. “It’s always been nice when people have come up to me after the show and have said, ’I didn’t know any of that and it was really interesting, and now it’s made me want to read at least a Wikipedia article’ – if not quite the full, published reading list of the show.”
The decision to focus on events of the past was not simply to steer clear of controversy. “The political comedy market is crowded so I thought my little thing would be that it’s the history of politics rather than just the politics.” For many this could prove a bit of a feat. “I like the challenge of making a show about something that doesn’t immediately seem funny. In the early drafts of the show, it read sort of like a lecture, and so I had to find ways of making it a bit more personal, a bit more dramatic.”
Luckily, Hodgson didn’t need to search far: “I do characters normally, so I had to find a way of making funny characters who people would laugh at regardless.” Hodgson’s record demonstrates a slew of high-energy, character-based shows and performances. Ultimately, ’75 has proven to be much the same: “When you’re working up a show you tend to do it once every couple of weeks so you have that recovery time, and then August comes and I’m obviously in Edinburgh doing it night after night, sometimes twice a night, and I realise ‘Oh heavens, this show is absolutely exhausting.’”
Hodgson thrives on creating a show that also aligns with the things he loves most. “I try to be an on-stage hobbyist, but I’m running out of hobbies. And then it gets to, ‘Am I now contemplating picking up crochet just so I can do a show about it?’” He prides himself on being an enthusiast of all things politics and history. “I’m a sucker for parliamentary drama. I was in the car the other day late at night, put the radio on and heard, ‘and now, live from the Commons’ – I love all that.”
When it comes to politicians of the 70s, he finds that there is an added attraction: “They’re quite big characters – they tend to have distinct styles and speak in ways that you tend not to hear anymore. I have a fascination with modes of speech and accents that have disappeared, and the 70s is rich with them. We’re very lucky that so much footage has survived from that period, much of which is on YouTube, and I would spend hours listening to these weird and wonderful vowels from not that long ago. I find it fascinating how, within half a century, the common mode of speech within a society can change very radically. It’s accent archaeology, I suppose.”
However, he acknowledges that this is not necessarily the norm for people of his own demographic. “It was absolutely a challenge that I faced in writing the show, thinking ‘You’re not as interested as I am in all these personalities from the past.’” But Hodgson relished the opportunity to think outside of the box. Take Charles de Gaulle, the French general and president who was instrumental in initially preventing Britain from joining the EU. “No one really has a working knowledge of what Charles de Gaulle sounds like, so my way around that is to go completely as far away from it as I can. So, my Charles de Gaulle is an impression of Ru Paul. I thought that can be big and silly and modern, whilst still conveying the fundamental point that Charles de Gaulle could be very wilful and domineering in the same way Ru can.”
When he isn’t touring, Hodgson is becoming an ever more familiar TV face. Last summer he wrote and starred in Channel 4 Blap, God’s Own County, a love-letter to the comic’s home county, Yorkshire. “I’d love to take what we did with God’s Own County and extend it. It’s definitely high on my list of priorities.” His proclivity for character comedy is clearly taking him places, as he dips his toe further into the TV world.
He also recently secured a regular part on popular sitcom Two Doors Down. “I love it. It’s such a blast working with all those really funny people and having the experience of living in Glasgow for two months a year. I’m just ever so grateful that I get to be a part of it. Before that I’d done lots of guest roles where you just pop in for a morning or an afternoon, and everyone knows everyone else, so you’re just the weird guest guy assuming you’re going to get sacked any minute. It’s nice to have a bit of time to develop really great relationships with the actors and the crew, and to develop the character.”
Indeed, character comedy has and will continue to provide a solid foundation for Hodgson’s career. It’s what he’s best at. “It’s not crazy to want to try and incorporate all the things you can do and all the things you can bring. I have things that I love, and I want to share why I love them with people. And to justify to people that I’m not weird is a strong part of that. [The Fringe] is a very crowded marketplace full of very talented people coming up with original ideas, so purely in terms of winning that audience it’s good to be unique in some way, and if my particular interests are part of that, then why not use them?”