Andy Hamilton Interview

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Outnumbered co-creator Andy Hamilton brings his stand up tour Change Management to Blackheath Halls on November 28th.

Andy Hamilton is a comedian of television, radio and stage - not to mention the creator of TV comedies Outnumbered, Ballot Monkeys and 90s classic Drop the Dead Donkey. He talked to London Calling ahead of a London date in his UK tour.

London Calling: Your show is called Change Management. Do you believe in the existence of the male menopause?

Andy Hamilton: I think I’ve been living through it since I was about eight years old. I think middle-aged men since the dawn of time will have experienced feelings of anxiety and displacement. A lot of great literature is based on the male menopause. Loosely speaking I’m sure there is a phenomenon, which has a comic dimension, which is men getting used to the idea that they are no longer at the centre of events.

LC: What was the first big change in your life?

AH: I had my thumb removed when I was five years old. So that was a literal change in that my body was edited of one digit.

LC: So you adapted pretty quickly?

AH: It stopped me being a violinist. Yeah, I did adapt actually. I learned to write with my left hand. Oh - so that is the first big change: having to learn to write using the other hand. But it was quite good because I’d just started primary school and it made me a bit of a celebrity. The other kids thought it was pretty cool and they gathered round to look at the stitches.

LC: You are a Londoner - from your perspective how has London changed over the years?

AH: Generally speaking gentrification has been the big change. I think it means that the people who keep London ticking over - the nurses and the bus drivers - they all now live out on the fringes of London. Migration in and out of London, morning and evening is a big change. Sorry that’s not a very funny answer. There’s less dog crap on the street?

LC: Which cultural venues do you think London can be most proud of?

AH: I love the Albert Hall. I could watch anything there. If they put on snooker in the Albert Hall I would probably go and watch it, just because I love being inside that building.

LC: Outnumbered shook up a format that had been done so many times - the family sitcom. What other formats need a good shakeup?

AH: All the shows that are done against phoney deadlines. You know, when they say ‘We’ve got two days to make over’ a certain house. You haven’t got two days. That’s just a fabrication to generate a sense of jeopardy. I think those makeover shows are really tired. They could do with a makeover at least, if not abolition. Personally I think all reality programming looks clichéd and old fashioned and it has for some time. I think the only reason there’s still so much of it is the economics of it.

LC: What is wrong with television today?

AH: Sometimes I talk about this in the show. I would say the biggest problem in British television is the same as it’s been from the beginning. It’s: How do you make popular programmes that don’t patronise or talk down to the audience? That’s always been the dilemma from the very beginning. The audience love stuff that’s new and original. They really take to something new. But the pressures of marketing mean that you go with something that worked before. I think that broadcasters fail to trust the audience’s receptiveness for new things.

LC: Do you think there’s an economic fear there?

AH: Certainly, as the environment gets more precarious it gets more competitive. The fear of losing money can be a great inhibitor of creative risk-taking. And that’s not a criticism, that’s human nature. If it was my money I’d feel the same way probably. But I’m in that luxurious position of spending other people’s money.

LC: Do you think social media has made it harder to write satire?

AH: I don’t think it’s making satire harder, no. It’s making public life a bit more ludicrous. In some ways it’s making satire a bit easier because you get these absurd, slightly hysterical reactions to things. So it’s opened up a new department for satire.

LC: Are you a fan of the sitcom Parks and Recreation?

AH: That’s my daughter’s favourite. It’s a good show.

LC: Any other sitcoms you would shine a light on?

AH: Frasier is a classic sitcom. Of the new crop I like Peep Show and The IT Crowd.

LC: What do you like about touring?

AH: The shows. Writing is quite a deskbound activity. And just meeting the people who like your stuff is really interesting. One of the things I talk about is the fact that teachers used to hit kids when I was a kid. Just straw polling the audience and finding out what they got hit by, and how they felt about it, is interesting. But obviously the priority is to make them laugh.

LC: Do you have anything else coming up?

AH: I’m bringing out a book with an outfit called Unbound. They crowd-fund the production costs, so they cover the risk with advance sales from the fans, which is a really interesting model. I went to see them and the first thing I noticed was how buoyant and happy everyone in the office looked compared to TV people. It was a great bonus. At the same time it’s very ‘olde-worlde’ because it’s what people used to do in the 18th Century. People like Pope, they went round saying, “I’ve got this poem; I want to publish it.” And they’d show it to people and people would go, “oh that’s good”, and they’d give them the money. It’s a strange fusion of modern technology and traditional methods.

Tickets for Andy Hamilton’s Change Management at Blackheath Halls on 28 November can be booked here. To support Andy’s debut novel, see Unbound website.