Interview: Lee Hurst

Lee Hurst

Lee Hurst - Credit: Archant

Calling his new stand-up show Too Scared To Leave the House may not be the cleverest thing Lee Hurst as done. WAYNE SAVAGE finds out why he's worth the risk.

Lee Hurst must get sick of people asking whatever happened to him — 'even some of my fans even thought I'd died,' he jokes. After shooting to fame on the BBC comedy sports quiz They Think It's All Over, the comedian all but disappeared from TV.

But now he has the perfect answer as his 50th birthday has prompted him to get back on the road for the first time in a decade.

His tour — entitled Too Scared To Leave the House, sees him visit Norwich's Maddermarket Theatre on February 5 and marks a return to the comedy circuit where he first earned his spurs before becoming first the warm-up man for Have I Got News For You?, then regular panellist spot on They Think It's All Over after impressing producers looking for a warm-up man for the pilot.

Despite the huge success of the show, which saw him exchanging quips with Nick Hancock, Gary Lineker and David Gower, he left after five series — 'the reason I decided to leave was because I felt that by the fourth series the quality had really slid,' he says frankly — though he later returned twice as a guest and for the Comic Relief 24 Hour Panel People Special last year.

Lee decided instead to semi-retire and concentrate on running his comedy venue acting as resident compere. In 2010 he turned property developer, razing it to the ground and building in its place a seven storey hotel, on the ground floor of which will be a bar and his new comedy club.

The title of his new tour seems apt. 'Originally it was going to be called the End of the World tour; then I looked online and there was an End of the World show somewhere. Then I was going to call it Whatever Happened to Acid Rain on the fact it was supposed to destroy everything. 'A pal said 'it doesn't really grab you and a lot of younger people won't even know what acid rain is'. I went 'well that's kind of the point, it's disappeared'. I mulled it over a bit more and thought I'll call it Too Scared to Leave the House.'

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Lee casts his eyes over the many end-of-the-world scare stories from acid rain and global warming to bird flu, mad cow disease and many other apocalyptic disaster predictions that never were. He also muses over the everyday dangers we face in our daily lives.

Did researching the show make him more worried? 'No. When I started looking into the acid rain stuff there was this wonderful thing I read, there was an area in Hampshire where they basically sprayed these trees on a daily basis with what essentially was the components of acid rain and they thrived; nothing happened,' he laughs.

'I'm very sceptical about a lot the stuff they throw at you, if they can find a way to make money out of it I start to believe it's not true. World governments create solutions and [then] they find the problem.'

Talk turns to global warming. 'Years ago this mate of mine told me about carbon credits, you were allocated a certain amount and the idea was you could buy them from a Third World country that doesn't pollute as much. So in order for somebody like me to watch an HD television all night long I'm basically paying for a guy to sit in a hut in Africa.

'Morally that stinks. Anyway, why are we bothering with any of it here when we're being told the light's going to go out unless we go nuclear; we can't have any more coal fire power stations because they're poisonous but China is building a coal fire power station a week?

'America scores [high in the pollution stakes] per capita but China and India with their population just leave the rest of the world in their wake. [It makes you] very sceptical and other countries aren't being made to do what we're pledging to do. You could argue historically we've created a lot of damage to the world because we've been industrialised for ever but I'll be honest with you, we're a drop in the ocean with what's happening [elsewhere].

'Look at Beijing where there was talk of some events that had to be postponed because of pollution. Don't get me wrong, pollution in a microcosm, in a given area, can be horrific.'

Roadworks are another thing that drives him, if you'll excuse the pun, around the bend. 'The local road department here, I'm not joking, they put speed bumps in, two years later they take them back out. They'll put a roundabout in, they'll take it back out, they'll put traffic lights in, they'll take them back out and put a roundabout back. What's going on? Is it to keep people in work?

'It's all these things they keep chucking at you. I'm sorry to sound like a conspiracy theorist... I'm not,' he laughs.

More tour dates are planned, including some suggested by fans on Twitter and Facebook, though he is not sure he should accept.

'There was another guy who contacted me; he said 'if you make us laugh enough we won't burn you in a wicker man',' says Lee.

Maybe it's a great honour in that area? 'If I come out unscathed... and of course apart from the CO2 emissions,' he laughs.

? Lee Hurst, Maddermarket Theatre, February 5, £15, 01603 620917,