‘No matter how dark or mad my brain has gone, no matter what I’ve done, I’ve always done it in a stupid, silly way,’ Rich Hardisty tells me in his comforting northern accent. We’re talking about his comedy show, Silly Boy, touring the UK. He’s vivacious and verbose, darting off on lengthy tangents before eventually circling back to the questions I’m asking. How does it feel to be performing a comedy show about the darkest moments of your life? How does it feel to hear the roaring applause? ‘To be able to talk about the worst parts of your life and hear a roar of laughter is the most healing thing,’ he says. Here is our conversation, in which we discuss comedy, writing, Rich’s acting career, and being gentle on yourself.
Interview: Rich Hardisty On Silly Boy
Hi, Rich! How’s life going at the moment? What’s going on with you?
It’s absolutely wonderful. It’s all been going well – I’ve been doing this live show about my life, which has been amazing. It’s a phenomenal experience to have. And now I’m also developing the TV show version of it.
Can you tell us about Silly Boy?
Basically, what sparked the show was that I had a manic depressive episode in 2017, and I got stuck in the house for two years. When I was in there, my friend – who is a big comedian called Tom Ward; he’s on Live at the Apollo and things – said, ‘Rich, if you ever get out of this situation, you’ve got to start doing stand up, because you’ve got the maddest life! You’ve got the maddest stories, and it would just be fascinating. You’re a very funny person.’ So I was like, ‘okay…’.
So I got a microphone one day, put it in the corner of my room, invited a load of people over to my flat and started talking about the things I’ve been through. And people started laughing! So I was like, ‘Oh, great!’ Then I started to put on one show a week and develop something, and it started selling out and I couldn’t fit everyone in my flat anymore. I was like, ‘Oh, great!’.
Then it went to Camden Comedy club – then it started selling out there. And then a guy called Mick Perrin turned up – who does Bo Burnham’s tours, Eddie Izzard’s tours and Simon Amstell’s tours – and he said, ‘Look Rich, I’m Mick, and I’d love to take this to Edinburgh. Can I?’ And I said, ‘Yes, definitely!’. So he took me to Edinburgh [Festival Fringe] and we had an amazing run then, and now here I am going on tour with it. Totally crazy!
I’ve performed in LA, too, at a place called Dynasty Typewriter; the day before me was Seth Rogan and the day after me was Adam Sandler. Like, woah! This is crazy. So that was pretty magical.
Forgot to share on here but I performed SILLY BOY at the legendary DYNASTY TYPEWRITER in LA and it was the most magical night of my life. ✨
Can’t believe this show started in my flat after a mental break down (see pic 3).
— rich hardisty (@richardhardisty) March 9, 2023
Amazing! How has all of that felt? The play comes from such a dark place…
The thing that I really want to stress about this show is it’s very fun and silly and light. In all the advertising and descriptions, I don’t mention what it’s about because when you hear that you think, how can that be funny? In this press stuff, I almost want to sort of leave it out as well. It’s about the worst parts of my life, which were to do with various mental health issues. But the reason it was funny, the reason it’s called Silly Boy, is because, no matter how dark or mad my brain has gone, no matter what I’ve done, I’ve always done it in a stupid, silly way – because I’m an idiot. First and foremost, for real, I’m a wally. I’m a pillock.
If you’re an idiot, just because something bad happens, it doesn’t mean it’s not gonna be funny. You’re still going to be an idiot. Even if you go to a funeral, your trousers will probably fall down. Do you know what I mean? Stupid stuff happens to me. And it’s all about those stupid, ridiculous stories. I thought it was quite good to be able to teach people about some of these things through the prism of my idiocy. It’s not that I can’t ever be funny, but it’s just the way my brain is wired. After being silly and stupid for 30 years straight, it’s just how everything filters through. Like, when I’m watching the news, I’m looking for what funny things could happen. It’s just how my brain is wired now.
It’s had an amazing response, including an invite to perform at the Psychologist Research institute in Bristol and to the NHS Conference – how has it all felt?
Oh my God, it’s the best rush. It’s the best feeling in the entire world. To be able to talk about the worst parts of your life and hear a roar of laughter is the most healing thing. It’s better than any therapy. Because now, when I think about all those things that have happened, I don’t think of the bad stuff, I just think of the crowds going [cheers] and rolling around laughing. It really sorts your brain out. Honestly, stand up is just the best feeling in the world. It gives you self esteem, it gives me purpose, it gives me drive. It’s everything.
It sounds really healing!
Yeah, just getting it out. It’s like being able to vomit on stage. It’s like purging. [mimes vomiting] Get it out, get it all out. And then what fills it back in is laughter. People seem to be really learning from it – I’m getting constant inboxes. It’s got a really satisfying ending – it’s like the hero’s journey, because I go through this dark thing but then I come full circle. It makes you want to punch the air at the end and go, ‘yes! Come on!’. And everyone’s all up on their feet. It’s the most amazing feeling ever.
Your tour is funded by an anonymous benefactor. How does that feel?
Yeah, a guy came who was so moved by it, basically, he just said, ‘Look, I wasn’t expecting to feel that. I came to a comedy show. I didn’t expect to feel the feelings that came from that. And I think this can do great things. So, here, go on tour.’ So I was like, ‘Wow!’ And now here I am.
And how is the tour going?
Wonderful. It’s so amazing. It’s weird, stand up, and my show is more than just stand up; sometimes you might have an audience who is a bit quieter. I’m a comedian, so I judge everything on laughter. If I meet you in the street and you’re not laughing within five seconds, I’m like, ‘do you hate me? What’s wrong?’, and I start to panic. Sometimes in the show, there’s bits where people are learning, so they’re not laughing, and I think, ‘Oh, they didn’t like that’. But, actually, they’re just processing what they just learned.
Also, trying it in different parts around the country has been so interesting. That’s how I knew the show would work – I’ve done it in working mens clubs, in LA, in Soho Theatre. And when you do it for everyone, you think, ‘wow, there’s something human about this’.
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Do people laugh at the same parts in different locations?
Well, that’s the thing. Everyone has their own little thing. The things I’m talking about, some people might have some relatives who have experiences with it, or they might have experiences with this themselves; some people have never heard about these things – their eyes are getting opened to what these things are; and some people are having to process things they’ve not really thought about about themselves. Everyone brings their own experiences to the table.
Do you have a most memorable show?
The last one at the Fringe was pretty big to be fair. It’s when the donor turned up – he bought the last six tickets. That’s why he said, ‘I was meant to be there’. And knowing it was the last one for a while, all the relief… It was amazing.
How do you prepare to go on stage?
Just panic for five days! [laughs] Basically, I do. I’m very obsessive. Everyone’s got their different approaches. I know some people are just hanging out backstage, chatting until they go on, and it’s very natural. But I’m going round and round in my head making sure everything’s right. I’ve been rehearsing it properly. I know what my arms are going to do. There’s nothing that hasn’t been thought out. I make sure everything works – projections, lights. Only then can I relax. Actually, I relax the second I go out on stage. Everything sort of goes quiet. And that’s it now. I think the thing that can make you anxious is the ‘will it go wrong? Will it go well?’. But once you’re in it, you’re in it. It’s happening.
You said you started doing this when your friend encouraged you to do stand up. Before that, did you want to go into comedy?
Well, to be fair, I had been writing comedy. I wasn’t coming to this fresh. I’d been developing TV shows with Channel Four and stuff. I’ve written things and I’ve done character sketches and things like that – acting and comedy acting. But I’d never actually talked about me. I could never quite figure it out. But I knew that I had something to say. That’s the thing, with standup. What do I talk about? What have I got to say? And now I had something. I had a mission. I knew what I wanted to make people feel.
Does it feel really different, doing your own story?
It makes it easier. That’s why I feel quite confident with the show. If people don’t like it, well, I couldn’t have written another show. This is my life. All I had was the truth. It’s like if you go on a date, and it doesn’t work out but you were just being yourself. Well, what can you do? It’s not like, ‘ah, I wish I pretended to be someone else!’
The thing is, when you write TV shows, I bring myself to it. All the characters I’ve written have all been hybrids of me. Another thing that made me want to pitch the show was that I was pitching something else to a TV channel, and at the end they said, ‘OK, that was interesting, but tell me about yourself.’ So I told them about my life, and she said, ‘Why didn’t you bring me that? That’s way more interesting!’ I’d never really thought about it – it’s just my life.
Do you think you’ll go back to writing other stuff?
Yes, absolutely, so long as it’s something I care about. The good thing about stand up, as well, is that commissioners come along and they can see that you’re funny. They can see people laughing.
Has the show changed your priorities in terms of what you want to write about?
Yeah, well, I’m developing the TV version of Silly Boy. Can’t say too much about that. But I just want to get this story done. It’s important to me to get it out there. I feel like no one’s ever not going to understand me ever again, you know? Rather than thinking, ‘hm, he’s a bit odd.’ If you see this show, it’s like getting me injected into your veins – you’re like, ‘oh, I understand’. It’s one big selfie. This is me. I should have called it ‘Me: The Show’.
You’ve also been an actor in the past…
Yes – it was all going quite nicely. I was in a show called Love Sick, and then Fantastic Beasts, but I got my lines cut! I only found out at the premiere, which was quite funny. I was still in the film but all my lines had gone – I just arrested Johnny Depp at the end. Still a good experience! Quite fun. Then I had that breakdown so I had to stop it all. And I’m just trying to get back into it again now.
What kind of stuff are you wanting to do?
Oscar winning things! [laughs] Just good things. Things that excite me. I like making people feel things.
What would your dream role be?
Probably the one I’m writing now, because it’s me! If I can’t get cast in that, what can I get cast in? It’s an interesting question, because you really out yourself. Like, ‘oh, so that’s how you think you are’. You know, what if I were to say, ‘I don’t know, a superhero’?
I think something very human. I’d quite like to play a very straight role. Because I’m naturally very silly – it would be interesting to play the opposite of that. It would probably be quite difficult, and I don’t know if I’d get cast in that. But something serious and sexy.
What’s something you’d never want to do?
No insult to anyone, but some things you watch and you’re just like, ‘how did that even get made?’. And you wouldn’t even know how to keep a straight face doing it. But everything has its place for someone.
Did you always want to perform?
Yes! When I was at school, I was very hyperactive. I got no GCSEs, and I was like, ‘don’t worry, Miss, I’m going to be on TV when I’m older!’ And she was like, ‘What are you on about, you idiot?’ I just had a feeling in me. And it was so compelling that I just moved to London and made it happen. Through blagging. And like, ‘let me in! Let me in!’
I think if you know where you want to get to and just spend every day trying to get there, you can make it happen. I’ve been very lucky and privileged in some ways, too. My friend says I’m the luckiest and unluckiest person in the world. Amazing stuff has happened, and horrendous stuff has happened. I think that’s the karmic balance. Like, ‘yep, you can go to LA and do this amazing show about your life, but you have to go to a psychiatric ward for two years!’ Argh! OK, fine, fair enough. There’s no middle ground. There’s no balance. Everything is extreme.
If you could talk to your 15 year old self, what would you say?
Don’t worry. You’re OK. I’d say all the stuff I know now. You can’t see this now, but you need to be more gentle on yourself.
How do you balance writing with your personal life?
I don’t really have a personal life, that’s the thing. That is the one thing I’m trying to work on. I really wish I could balance it. Some people have that sort of brain, some people don’t.
How can we all live a little bit better?
Just don’t judge yourself. You can’t control your thoughts, your feelings – you don’t get to choose what you believe. Once you realise that, it’s a lot easier to be kinder to yourself. You are not your mind. And once you realise that, you start being gentler on yourself. And you start being gentler on other people, too. We’re all a product of things. We don’t choose who we are. We all experience things and have genetical things that shape the way we are. Basically, just go easy on yourself and other people. That’s it. That’s compassion.
Rich Hardisty is in his final week touring Silly Boy across the UK. Stay up to date and see his upcoming shows at richhardisty.com