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On Comedy, Neuroses, and the Royal Variety Performance - Meeting Mock the Week Star Hal Cruttenden

04/03/2014 15:12 GMT | Updated 04/05/2014 10:59 BST

One of the top comedians working in the UK today, Hal Cruttenden's unique perspective on life sets him apart as a true original.

With recent television appearances including 'Live at the Apollo,' 'Have I Got News For You,' and 'Mock the Week,' Hal is a firm favourite in both the stand up circuit and world of comedy panel shows.

I caught up with Hal last week to talk about, amongst many things, his 'Tough Luvvie' show, which is touring the UK until June 2014, and his first sitcom - 'Hal' - for Radio 4

CM: Hal, you're currently on your Tough Luvvie tour - how's it going so far?

HC: If It was going badly I obviously wouldn't tell you but I promise you it's going great. I'm loving this one. Lovely crowds. Hardly any nutters.

CM: Tought Luvvie...tell us what we can expect. How did you arrive at the concept?

HC: Tough Luvvie is an hour and fifty minutes of my best stand up to date. It's called Tough Luvvie because it's the most accurate way to describe me. I'm a big softie, from the acting profession, who can be very unpleasant if you mess with me.

CM: An amazing year for you - what has been your highlight?

HC: I think it has to be appearing on 'Have I Got News For You'. It's like a big family on that show. Lots of the team who produce it have worked on it since the start over twenty years ago. Ian's like a lovable cuddly little Mum and Paul's the grumpy Dad trying to disguise his heart of gold.

CM: The Royal Variety Performance - congratulations on your second appearance last year. As gigs go, is it as nerve-wracking as we'd expect?

HC: Royal Variety is tough because you're always following a musical act. My first year it was Katherine Jenkins and this last one I was following Gareth Malone's choir. Even I didn't want them to stop singing.

I'd been warned about it being a hard gig because everyone is tense at what the royals will find funny. It's been a bit of a dream come true to do it twice and have a great one both times. This year I also had my kids in the audience so was terrified that I'd die horribly onstage and scar them for life. Luckily it went great and I can still go to parents' evenings at school.

CM: Both you and your sister Abigail are in show-business - did you come from a theatrical family?

We come from a family of performers though not many who were professionals. My Great Great Uncle was a clown called Butch Reynolds who wrote a book about his life called 'Broken Hearted Clown'.

My grandmother went to Italia Conti stage school and appeared in the West End with Charles Hawtrey when they were children. She went on to run her own school of dance and drama. My Dad was an advertising executive who decided to finally do the job he'd always wanted to do at 49. He became an actor, got an agent, had two jobs lined up when he suddenly died at 50 (we're not lucky in our family).

My mum was also a very good actor when she was younger but decided she could never really conquer stage fright.

She became a make up artist at the BBC and founded 'Greasepaint' the school of Stage, TV and Film make up. When she died in December it was still the number one school in the UK, with numerous Bafta winners and Oscar nominees among its former pupils.

So in reference to your original question, I suppose the answer is 'yes'.

CM: Was it always your intention to become a comedian?

Not until I was into my late twenties. I'd gone to drama school and had odd jobs on TV but, like most actors, wasn't making much of a living from it. It was while I was doing a job writing and reading travel news at the BBC that a work colleague told me about a comedy course at the City Lit in London. It was run by a woman called Jill Edwards who now runs courses in Brighton. A comedy course can't make you funny - the vast majority of people who do them don't make it on the comedy circuit - but, if you've got the right instincts, it's the perfect springboard to get you through the first six months.

After I'd done my first gig - to thirty people in a basement in Notting Hill - I was hooked for life. At last I could do a job where my neuroses, effeminacy and battles with weight were an advantage.

CM: Away from the fast-moving, thinking on your feet pace of such shows as Mock the Week, what do you like to do in your downtime?

HC: My wife would say 'Downtime hah!' I must say that the last year has been great but incredibly busy. If I have other passions it's rugby (to watch not play! My knees went years ago) and spinning at the gym (cycling to dance music - love it!).

I love horror and Rocky movies - I'm far more manly and dangerous than people imagine.

CM: Tell us about your new sitcom 'Hal'.

HC: As the title suggests it's about me! It's based on my personality rather than my real life. I play a man going through many of the common features of a mid-life crisis. He's a house husband whose kids are growing up and don't need him. His wife has a high powered job. Everyone seems to be moving on except him. It's what my life might have been like without comedy to save me.

CM: Finally - the tour, the sitcom - what else can we expect from Hal Cruttenden in 2014?

HC: Quite a lot of spots on TV I hope! I film 'Would I Lie To You' next week so really looking forward to that. I'm also going to be touring until November.

I'm not overly ambitious but, by the end of the year, I want to be that comic that's on the box so much that people see me and think, 'Not him again!' - That's the dream.

Hal's 'Tough Luvvie' tour dates can be found at his website www.halcruttenden.com