Rufus Hound and Geoff Norcott dine across the divide: ‘The idea that there is anything you can’t say is nonsense’

In our celebrity Dining across the divide special, the comedians cover everything from cancel culture to Jeremy Corbyn

Rufus, 43, London

A portrait of Rufus Hound

Occupation Actor, comedian and presenter

Voting record Rufus used to vote Lib Dem, not ideologically but because he never lived anywhere that Labour had a chance of ousting the Tories. Then he campaigned for Jeremy Corbyn. He voted remain in the EU referendum

Amuse bouche Rufus has a pet ferret called Eddie. And he – Rufus, not the ferret – recently ran away to join the circus. Really

Geoff, 45, Cambridgeshire

A portrait of Geoff Norcott

Occupation Comedian and writer

Voting record Labour, Labour, Lib Dem, then the Tories for the last four general elections. He describes himself as “centre right”, and claims to be the only outspoken Tory on the British comedy circuit. In the EU referendum he voted leave

Amuse bouche Geoff is a bedroom DJ, pseudonym Geoffrey Van Hyre. “I thought Van Hyre sounded quite working class, but also Dutch”

For starters

Geoff I suppose I was naturally Labour. My parents were disabled, I lived on a council estate. But in the 00s I saw a lot of people out of work and nothing happening to them. Benefits were at a level where there was a slight disincentive to work. My mum was on disability allowance and there was no meaningful effort to get her back into the workplace – she was really smart and that was a shame. I felt New Labour had got a bit exhausted.

Rufus When Jeremy Corbyn’s policies were put to people blind, they received between 60 and 90% approval on the doorstep. Right now I am not even on the political spectrum: I’m, like, tear-it-all-down anti-capitalist. I think capitalism and patriarchy between them have ruined everything that’s good about being alive, and I only understand that now I am a bit older.

Geoff My politics have a pessimistic view of some things, but I do think well of people. I don’t have that thing the left has for the right, you know: “How would you feel if your kid married a Tory?” Labour voters would be significantly less happy than a Tory voter would be if their kid married a Labour voter.

Rufus It’s like asking an alligator: would you be happy if your kid married a chick. The alligators all go: “Yeah, we’re actually quite in favour of that.” If my son, who I’m raising to be compassionate and empathic, reached his teenage years and went, “Dad, I’ve joined the Tories,” I’d find it very hard to look him in the eye. I would still love him though, just for the record.

Comedians Geoff Norcott and Rufus Hound chatting at a table at Hide restaurant in London

The big beef

Geoff I wouldn’t describe myself as anti-woke, but I have seen subjects dismissed – not the take on the subject, the whole subject. I guess people wonder if the juice is worth the squeeze, and that is something I’m seeing more of.

Rufus I would be won over by the idea that this new censorious culture is ruining comedy were it not for the fact that there has been no shortage of comedy in the last few years that I have found absolutely hilarious.

Geoff I do have a bit in my current show about trans stuff. I tried a bit on the last tour and it’s taking a while to get it right; people didn’t laugh. I trust audiences, and if they recoil then I think there’s something wrong with it. Now what I talk about is the difference in tone with people transitioning from female to male – it doesn’t seem that many men give any shits about that, and I think that’s funny and interesting, so I mine that. I think it comes down to the quality threshold of the joke, so rather than be wary of a subject, be wary of having a bad joke on a subject. Touring since the pandemic, I don’t know if audiences want offence. I definitely don’t think they’re specifically saying: “I want rightwing comedy.” What they do like is honesty; if you take a slight risk in terms of being honest, and if it’s funny, that’s what is getting rewards.

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Rufus I feel differently about all of it. The idea that there is anything you can’t say is nonsense. What you can’t do is say anything you like and expect that people who are upset or offended by what you’ve said can’t voice the fact they are upset or offended. There are consequences. I grew up heroising Bill Hicks, but then marginalised voices started saying some of that stuff is really bad. When we hear these voices our choice is how we respond to them, and it seems to me, as a humanist with a bit of decency and compassion, what does it hurt to make those changes?

Geoff Standup has that unique licence: what makes it an incredible art form is that you can just be really honest, and if you put your little joke token in, you might get to say something that people in normal society might not quite be able to get away with saying. Not something offensive, just something a bit more real.

Comedians Geoff Norcott and Rufus Hound chatting at a table at Hide restaurant in London

Sharing plate

Rufus I was recently diagnosed with ADHD, and I’m basically a mess as a result. I’m doing a lot of therapy.

Geoff For me it’s anxiety. It comes around about every two years, like a really crappy comet. I’m big into therapy. I do think there’s a way that talking therapy is pitched to blokes – you just have to keep it really simple, you know: better out than in.

Comedians Geoff Norcott and Rufus Hound chatting at a table at Hide restaurant in London

For afters

Rufus The problem I had with Jimmy Carr’s Holocaust thing – I’m not defending the joke itself, I’m not saying I rate it or it needs telling – but surely the point of censoring a joke is to say it has a real-world effect. The sense Bernard Manning created for his audience was: people who aren’t the same colour as you are second-class citizens. That’s why we censor his jokes – that makes sense to me. However, if the comedian on stage caveats it for a full 20 seconds, then immediately afterwards goes, “Yeah I know, horrific isn’t it?” I don’t understand how under those conditions hate is being spread.

Geoff They stripped it of context. I suppose that is our version of pleading the fifth.

Rufus Also tone. How something is said by a comedian in the last 20 minutes of their set on a Saturday night sounds very different from you reading it over your cornflakes on Monday morning with the Daily Mail.

Geoff I rate being a comedian above all other loyalties. It’s kind of extreme sports – when you meet other people who have done that, it’s like a union, before politics, leftwing or rightwing, anything like that. We’ve got much more in common by being comedians than anything else.

Comedians Geoff Norcott and Rufus Hound chatting at a table at Hide restaurant in London


Geoff I was a bit apprehensive because I know how passionate you are about your politics. I thought it could be tricky.

Rufus Honestly, if you were a politician I might have found this hard, but I don’t believe comedy really changes anything.

Geoff I was always relieved you didn’t unfollow me on Twitter. A lot of comedians did, but I thought: if I can just keep Rufus …

Comedians Geoff Norcott and Rufus Hound chatting at a table at Hide restaurant in London

• Geoff Norcott’s new show, I Blame the Parents, will be at the Edinburgh festival fringe in August. Rufus and Geoff ate at Hide, London.

Want to meet someone from across the divide? Find out how to take part


Sam Wollaston

The GuardianTramp

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