Jeremy Hardy remembered by Rory Bremner

17 July 1961 – 1 February 2019
The impressionist and comedian on the beloved comic whose deadpan style and fearless politics marked him out as one of the most original voices of his generation

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On my first ever tour, of small theatres and student unions in 1984, Jeremy Hardy was my support act. It should have been the other way round. “Middle-class comedian from Surrey”, the poster described him, quoting some underwhelming review. But that was Jeremy’s style. He wore it like the cardigans he would wear on stage, always unfussy, unshowy but funnier than all the rest of us put together. “People say I’m self-deprecating,” he’d say, “but I don’t think I’m very good at that.” He’d shuffle on to the stage, sometimes in front of a quite intimidating late-night crowd, and announce himself. “My name’s Jeremy Hardy. I’m going to make you laugh. Going to make you cry. Play your cards right, I’ll make you breakfast.” Fellow comics would watch and wonder at his ability to charm and defuse audiences with the sheer quality and originality of his material. It’s no exaggeration to say his downbeat, deadpan style inspired a whole generation of standups on the 1980s cabaret circuit.

But his apparent diffidence masked a brave and fearless commitment to justice and political causes, from the miners to the Guildford Four and the Birmingham Six, and later the Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, about which he made a memorable documentary.

Jeremy Hardy performing in London, 2016.
Jeremy Hardy performing in London, 2016. Photograph: Guy Smallman/Getty Images

Brought up in Mytchett in Surrey (“a small suburb of the M3”), he enjoyed and parodied that peculiar Englishness of the old black-and-white films (his favourite self-image was as Wilfrid Hyde-White, being wheeled round the ward in his pyjamas, saying: “Everyone’s been very kind”). But his distaste for the twee and complacent attitudes and the cant of the privileged middle classes found an outlet in the inspired, brilliant and peerlessly funny “rants” that marked his radio appearances from Jeremy Hardy Speaks to the Nation to The News Quiz. No subject was spared his irreverence: politics, social attitudes – even the crucifixion (“People blame the Jews. But I’ve got lots of Jewish friends and they’re all hopeless at DIY. They could never get a cross to stand up like that, not for three days”).

Apparently spontaneous, his flights of imagination were in fact brilliantly conceived, fuelled by genuine rage or exasperation and unfailingly, show-stoppingly funny – Peter Cook funny – often featuring voices and accents for which he had a remarkably good ear. Particularly remarkable, considering his appalling singing, which became a highlight of his appearances on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t a Clue.

Radio was Jeremy’s medium, suiting his unassuming style. Fame and fortune mattered less to him than causes and friendships, his support of Jeremy Corbyn combining the two. Even in the late stages of his illness, he joked of appearing at rallies as “the two Jeremys”. He was so admired and loved by his fellow comedians, his sense of mischief lighting even the darkest moments. At his great friend Linda Smith’s funeral, as mourners were asked to cast flower petals into the sea and “take the moment to remember Linda”, he turned to Mark Steel and said: “Thanks for that. I was thinking of remembering General Franco.”

Hardy’s friends are staging a night of comedy to commemorate his work on 25 March 2020. For more details on Stand Up for Jeremy Hardy, go to www.eventimapollo.com

Rory Bremner

The GuardianTramp

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