Steve Hughes’ stand-up comedy straddles the line between affectionate exposition of everyday irrationality and bitter critique of Western ideology. Ahead of his Enmore Theatre show this month, the heavy metal comedian sounds particularly affected by the gravity of his acute observations.
“It really brought a lot of things to a standstill, just being on the road for so long,” Hughes says. “I’m putting a limited edition vinyl album out, recorded last year at Enmore, and I’m listening back to it going, ‘I was hitting a peak of anger and exhaustion.’ It wasn’t like that three or four years ago.”
Hughes relocated from Sydney to the UK over a decade ago, but that didn’t stop his Australian following from ballooning. He was forced to postpone his Sydney Comedy Festival show until this month, and it might actually be the last opportunity to see him for the foreseeable future.
“After this tour I might take some time to invest in different things, to see if I’m even going to continue to do comedy,” he reveals. “For years I’ve been on the treadmill of touring like a fucking freight train. I’ve reached a point of re-evaluation and directionlessness.”
Hughes’ uncertainty about to where to go next isn’t due to a lack of ideas. Rather, after being swept up in the whirlwind of full-time touring for a number of years, he’s begun to doubt the constructive impact of his comedy.
“My intuition has been telling me, ‘How long can you rail against an idea before you perhaps begin to perpetuate the very thing that you’re claiming to be against?’” he explains through maniacal laughter. “A lot of the comedy was directed towards things that apparently seemed to be closing in on some kind of catastrophe; along the lines of global war or the coming together of an ancient plan. So I began to go, ‘OK, how long can you really rally against this?’
“We human beings like to have epiphanies when we have breakdowns, don’t we? Four years of touring gave me a tap on the shoulder and then I thought, ‘Perhaps if an individual can have a wake-up to a breakdown, then the planet may be heading for a breakdown.’”
OK, so Hughes is basically asserting that a collective breakdown is necessary if we’re to halt planetary destruction and overturn the dominant draconian politics. However, contributing to its occurrence poses a weighty dilemma.
“[I began] to think, ‘Well, there must be a higher way to think about this. How can I make this comedy be deeper without being lofty or intellectually aloof?’ I’m actually wondering, ‘How do I make this still funny?’ As much as people claim to like peace and love, on a subconscious level they probably prefer violence. [It’s] far more of a thrill to have their own unexpressed anger versed by some comic ranting his fucking head off.”
Sure, Hughes has a reputation for digging the blade into negative features of the contemporary world, but he’s never simply made nagging complaints. His deft slants against established phenomena carry a provocative propensity. Even so, he’s not prepared to think of himself as an educator.
“I would never make an assumption about my audience knowing more or less than me. I think anyone who does stand-up comedy thinking, ‘The audience is stupid,’ [that’s] the dumbest thing you could do. You have no idea what the audience thinks. You have to be open to be proved wrong.”