I first saw the name “Andy Hamilton” on the credits of one of my favourite TV shows, Outnumbered. Since then, I discovered that he was the man my parents laughed along with while watching Have I Got News For You, the voice frequently heard on radio shows like The News Quiz, and the writer behind iconic TV like Drop the Dead Donkey and Power Monkeys. And that’s just to name a few; his endless radio and TV credits are certainly impressive. At the start of October, Andy Hamilton embarks on his latest project, An Evening with Andy Hamilton, a touring show that is essentially a Q&A session between Hamilton and his audience. I was lucky enough to interview Hamilton on his newest show.
An Evening with Andy Hamilton certainly sounds like a unique concept in that Hamilton won’t have ultimate control of how the show develops. He explains the show’s premise: “the evening will be shaped by the audience. They’ll get to ask questions that they want to talk about”. With such fluidity in the structure of the evening, Hamilton says he knows that every performance will be different. He assumes that “there’ll be a mixture of the serious and the silly, but I don’t mind that”. Unsurprisingly, Hamilton says that he’ll try to “make sure that I’m funny and/or interesting along the way”; and I don’t doubt it, he easily makes me laugh throughout our interview.
A show such as this must have led to some reflection on his life, making me curious as to whether with hindsight, he thinks there are things that he should have done differently in his career. “I think only an idiot would say no” he says, “you do meet people like that though, don’t you, who’d definitely say, ‘you know what, if I had my whole life to live again, I wouldn’t change a thing’”. Since he’s clearly not one of those people, what would he do differently? “Probably I would try to be a little less arrogant when I was starting out. I was quite rude to some people and I think that was wrong. But then, I was young, and I think I’m allowed, when I’m young, to be a bit stupid. But no, I don’t think I have any major regrets. I mean by and large, I’ve been really lucky and nearly all of my experiences have been very good experiences.”
Hamilton has previously shared aspects of his personal life in his radio show, Andy Hamilton Sort of Remembers, so I wonder whether his new show will dip into reflections on his personal life too. “I’ll talk about anything” he says, “my career isn’t that interesting to be honest, I mean it’s a career. We could talk about world affairs, we could talk about any topic whatsoever. Even topics that I know nothing about I’m happy to talk about.” It’d certainly be interesting to chat to Hamilton about world affairs given that political satire is one of his specialities. While I find his satire incredibly amusing, I assume that he’s faced some negative backlash for his work. “I’ve never been targeted for assassination, but yes at times there’s a little bit of heat generated. But nowadays, I kind of assume I’ll offend somebody even before I start. I just think that’s likely, because, with social media, there’s an army of people out there waiting to be offended, who maybe even want to be offended at some deep level… to be honest, I mostly kind of tune it out.” Hamilton is known for not engaging with modern technology which must make tuning out the internet trolls much easier. He continues, saying, “I don’t really care anymore about what people think about me. I just say something that I think is true and that I can defend and if they want to have an argument about it, that’s fine.”
With his strong political opinions, I wonder whether Hamilton is just out there to make people laugh or if there’s an underlying desire to change people’s views. “I think I’m there to make people laugh and to think” he says, “I think it would be a bit unrealistic and maybe a bit arrogant to think you can change their views… we were all writing jokes about Margaret Thatcher but she still won 3 elections.” Unfortunately, Hamilton’s satire was unable to keep Trump out of power either.
Hamilton has undeniably achieved great success in his career, yet he didn’t always know that this was the field he wanted to go to into. He elaborates, saying “I’d just finished my last year at Cambridge and I hadn’t got a plan. I was about to stumble out into the world and probably become a mediocre teacher. I was doing a show up in Edinburgh as a sort of last hurrah and a young radio producer called Jeffrey Burkins came backstage and said “who wrote that?”, and I said “well I did” and he said “I think you should do it for a living”. And so, I went onto Radio 4 on a show called Week Ending which allowed you to submit material on spec and that was the start of it.”
While luck certainly played a part in the genesis of Hamilton’s career, he evidently had the talent to succeed. I asked if he had any advice for young, aspiring writers. While not wishing to sound pessimistic, he warns not to take rejection personally, saying that “the vast majority of what you write will be rejected for one reason or another and that applies to even writers at the top of their profession. And very often there’ll be reasons that you can’t control but the thing is not to take it personally. It may be that it’s still a great piece, but you’ll never get to find out because it just so happens that the dice didn’t fall in such a way that that piece could get made.” He also advises to “never wait by the phone. Never hang on tenterhooks waiting for someone to give you a ‘yes’, because the ‘yes’s can be so slow and unpredictable. Always start writing something else.”
I’m curious to know what projects Hamilton might have in the works at the moment and what he thinks the future will bring. “Well that kind of depends on the gods. The only things I know I’m doing, are the shows on this little tour but that’s quite a sort of genteel tour. I’m doing a radio series, a second series of something called Andy Hamilton Sort of Remembers next spring. And I’m going to be writing a novel in handwriting. So that’s either a brilliant idea or a fantastically stupid one.” It’s certainly a unique and lovely idea, but why go to the effort of handwriting a novel? He responds that “it’s an idea I’ve had for about 30 years and I’ve always wanted to do it … it’s just a story that I think would be told better in handwriting.” This story, Hamilton explains, “takes the form of very long letter which is like somebody’s parting testimony, that they’re leaving behind for a loved one.”
However, best to restrain your excitement for this new novel because Hamilton estimates that it’s completion “could be anytime within the next twenty years”. If you’re keen to see more of Andy Hamilton’s work in the near future, I’d say it’s a safer bet to try to see one of his performances of An Evening with Andy Hamilton.
Photo credits: Steve Ullathorne