Hal Cruttenden and I have previous here in Edinburgh. Last century type previous, when the Fringe was still a Fringe and fun and full of possibilities. When the rubric ran “get drunk, get famous and get laid”. And not necessarily in that order. I produced a show, at the Assembly Rooms in a venue that no longer exists, with three baby comics : Mitch Benn, Mitchell Anderson and Hal Cruttenden. We were not a howling success, and my most powerful memory of Hal is of him standing in George Street, at one o’clock in the morning, in the rain, with an increasingly damp copy of The Scotsman in his hands, reading our review. He looked like he was melting. “Two stars” he said. “Oh my God. Two stars”. Then he just turned and walked off.
“These are the memories that stick with you and that one was so painful” he says, the twinkly Cruttenden eyes disappearing temporarily in a whole body wince. “But there are great nights and there are awful nights and it is just such a rollercoaster. Like 2002 I was nominated for Best Newcomer but I also got a one star review from The List who said it was really hack to talk about wife and kids.
I, for one, loved Hal’s way with “hack” , and my worry is that, having had his girlfriend/fiancee/wife and her impenetrably accented Norn Irish family as not just the weft, but the warp of his comedy for two decades, what now?
“Yeeeeees.” he says “it is a bit of a worry”. It was, he says, something that had not gone unnoticed in the relationship.
“I remember” he says, and giggles, “we were on our way to a new material night and we’d just had a bit of a row about how much of my act was about her and her family and it was a bit frosty and … this is dreadful but … I actually thought of another joke on the way to the gig …”
He giggles again. It is a wonderful thing that Hal has not lost his giggle. That would be the end. However … back at that joke … “So we had an argument about how much I talk about her in the act and she said “Stop doing material about me ! … Are you listening to me ? … and I said “Listening ? I’m trying to get it all down!””
I feel that this is not the place for deep probings into the reasons for the divorce, but (spoiler alert !!) “I am the dump-ee, yes.” says Hal. “Thank God ! That makes it easier.”
Dawn has not seen the show yet, she never did come along to many of his shows, which, Hal says, was fine by him. With this show, “Every joke I do that might be dodgy, I run past her.”
So far so good. And the ex Mrs C. does have impressive comedy instincts.
“We were having a conversation about the whole trans thing recently, and I said, “I’m just not sure where I stand on the trans debate”, and she said, “If I were you, I’d stand well back.”” He nods, “I am so lucky she never went into comedy.”
There is a short hiatus while we remember the year Sarah Pascoe and John Robbins did his’n’hers shows about their break-up. “So lucky” says Hal.
Equally lucky, he observes, that she has no plans to use their divorce in her own line of work.
“She writes children’s books” says Hal. “I can just imagine “and now for “The Tale of The Selfish Fucking Clown”.
He talks, he says, in the show, about the fact that, as a society, we do generally blame the men. Although, he tells me (the boy has done his research) that 65/70 per cent of divorces are instigated by women leaving men, “we do always think … so what did the bastard do to make her leave?”
In Hal’s case, she has not exactly left. The divorce has been incredibly amicable and they are still sharing the ex-marital home.
If it is possible for a divorce to come at a good time, this one has. “I am a much more interesting comic than I was when I was younger” he muses “You have to become self aware – you have to see your weaknesses – I’m a bit posh, I’m a bit camp, I’m a bit chubby – and make your weaknesses a comedy weapon – that is a wonderful thing.”
And now ? “You get older and it becomes less about just trying to please, you get more open, more honest”.
“I am fascinated by how tragedy makes you reinvent yourself.” he continues, “I mean I am finding out lots of things about myself … how tough I am, how self-reliant I am …” And how slim he is ! A post-divorcely svelte Hal has lost two stones. “To get the ring off” he says. “Strange the things that motivate you. I lived with the ring on for three months because I was too fat to get it off and I thought “I need to do something about this””
This divorce is sounding less of a personal tragedy by the second
“I am trying NOT to do a particularly sad show” reassures Hal. “Although I do chuck in what my mum said when she was diagnosed with a terminal brain tumour … she died five years ago …”
For those intending to stock up on tissues for the hour …
“I don’t have a really sad bit … I don’t think that is right. I think you should look at the absolute worst moments of your life and find something funny in them. I don’t like it when people get indulgent. I mean I don’t think I should be going through some terrible trauma every night so the audience go … ‘Oh my God it was so awful and then how we laughed at the end …””
“I am surprisingly chipper,” says Hal. “I’ve got loads of friends who were saying “oh I thought you’d immediately collapse” – and it was lovely to know they had that kind of faith in me – But I just haven’t. Now it might just be public school background, you know, denial, stiff upper lip, ‘I am not facing the truth’ but, I have always been incredibly career minded and, about 5 minutes after she said “no, this is it, it’s over”, I was thinking ‘this is going to be GREAT for Edinburgh’. That was appalling, wasn’t it ?”
I reassure him. Not at all. Tragedy plus time and all that. Obviously comics with more talent need less time to achieve their alchemic transformation of tragedy into hilarity than others.
“I spoke to Al Barrie when his wife got cancer” says Hal, “and I kind of went “You know, one day this will make a great … ”, and he just said “Already thought of it mate””
And that worked out rather well, as I remember.
Hal Cruttenden: It’s best you hear it from me, 20.10pm Pleasance Courtyard, August 3-14, 17-24