Interview: Colin Hoult – Catching Up
THIS ARTICLE WAS WRITTEN IN MARCH 2012 FOR THE VELVET ONION
Colin Hoult is a busy man. With a number of his own projects at various stages of fruition, it seems Colin is a man who thrives on working overtime. “I’m definitely one for adding too much and then regretting it a little,” he explains, as we snatch a quick phone conversation in-between meetings for the various projects he’s under-taking. “It’s the story of my life! I’ve got a lot of things I want to try, and right now just feels like it’s a good time to do so.”
Hoult- Nottingham born, with a theatrical degree from Manchester Metropolitan University under his belt – has been steadily carving a career for himself as one of the hardest working comics on the circuit. An Edinburgh Festival veteran, his first show there was back in 2004, as part of double-act Colin & Fergus alongside fellow stand-up and actor Fergus Craig, whom he met at university. The duo returned for two more shows in 2005 and 2006, and worked together consistently until 2008, even touring New Zealand in a play about Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. Following this, Colin teamed up with David McNeil to create camp spy-spoof Zimbani, which again appeared in Edinburgh and had a pilot episode developed for digital channel Dave, featuring Julian Barratt of The Mighty Boosh.
Sadly, Zimbani’s televisual run never came to fruition, but there was no sign of stopping Colin Hoult – who by now had taken to Edinburgh with his own critically acclaimed solo shows: 2009’s Carnival Of Monsters and 2010’s The Enemy Of The World. These were followed by Inferno in 2011, and now Colin is morphing the trilogy into one streamlined hour of fantastical absurdity as part of The Udderbelly Festival on London’s Southbank in May. However, Hoult’s hectic schedule and eagerness to explore new avenues mean that, for the time being at least, this is a one-off performance.
“I think its more of a beginning than an end, really,” he explains. “For now, it’s probably a farewell to Edinburgh. The festival has been amazing to me and I wouldn’t do be doing anything without it, across the board. It’s a great place to develop, and now I want to take what I’ve got from there and turn it into a new thing. I’ve done the three Edinburgh shows that I always wanted to do, so I want to continue those with an ultimate best-of.”
The trilogy of shows all focused on mild grotesques – characters who audiences fell in love with, but who each had a fundamental flaw in their personality that left them socially inept and, in some cases, downright sinister. The final show in the trilogy, Inferno, took place in a mental asylum. It’s a world that Colin is eager to develop. “I’m going to use characters from all three shows,” he tells me, “but I’m going to put in some new characters as well. There’ll be lots of surprises really. It’s going to be fun to revisit some of these characters, because there are some I haven’t done since I first did them.”
“The plan is to see what I have at the end of it and see if we can take it further. That’s why it’s a step-forward, rather than an ending, I think. It’s a one-off for the foreseeable future, but it may be something that I can take all over the place.”
One arena in which these characters may continue is on radio. Earlier this year, Colin teamed up once more with his solo-show co-stars Stephen Evans, Dan Snelgrove and Zoë Gardner, to record his own radio pilot for the BBC. Several figures we have spoken to have heard sneak peaks, and have assured us the result is very impressive and undoubtedly very, very Colin.
Radio is far from a new medium for Colin, with a string of successes under his belt, so perhaps it’s surprising that he has only recently become a convert to the medium. “I didn’t grow up listening to it that much, myself,” he reveals, “so there are not that many things I wanted it to be like.” However, his biggest inspiration comes from a familiar source: “I’ve tried to not do anything deliberately like it, but Blue Jam [the seminal late 90s ambient comedy by Chris Morris featuring the likes of Julia Davis and Kevin Eldon] is definitely in there. That feeling of being able to just zone in and become absorbed by this world, which Blue Jam had, is what I’m hoping this has too.”
Similarly, much like Matt Berry drew on a combination of progressive rock blasting through the walls of his brother’s room as a child as he listened to Basil Rathbone reading Shakespeare to create his 2005 album, Opium, another source of inspiration was a chance encounter with another clash of literature and contemporary music: “I remember once hearing this Dracula reading on radio late at night,” Colin tells me, “in a car with someone, driving down the motorway. It was mixed to dance music, and was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever heard. Stuff like that can influence me. We’ve got quite a lot of stories and monologues in the show, but we try to improvise a lot as well. We’d do a few takes from the script, and then mix it up a little bit.”
Improvisation is perhaps key to Hoult’s work – his live shows thriving on audience participation; his mind constantly bristling with new ideas. “My problem,” he confesses, “is that I come up with new ideas all the time. That sounds really arrogant doesn’t it?” he asks, casually – a question I barely have time to ruminate on before his mind proves his next point before I can. He jumps in: “Plus, I get really bored. I was talking to Dave McNeil about how some acts give the illusion of being quite random and crazy, and then you find out everything they do is utterly worked out. I’m not like that. I just keep trying out new things all of the time. But that’s what I love – just throwing it out there and seeing what happens.”
I ask if this process is his mind refining ideas for him, and if once a routine is proven to work, does he maintain its beats from thereon in. “I should be better at deciding on the act, to be honest,” he opines. “I like to sit down and just write loads of stuff. I come up with an idea and write it all down, then when I go out on stage I say a rough approximation of it. Ideally, I do that a few times, and eventually nail it into a definite thing. With Inferno, I was changing it all of the time, which hats off, wasn’t the best thing to do. My brain just keeps going. I sort of feel that once it’s finished, I’m not interested in it anymore.”
Those other things also include a second regular themed night, in addition to his New Adventures nights pulling together friends on the comedy circuit. Entitled Colin Hoult’s Real Horror Show, these shows are a combination of six short-form plays surrounded by a wider narrative – a portmanteau of chilling tales each featuring Colin and a revolving door of actors; Hoult being the only person who plays more than one character throughout the evening.
The shows tie in with his well-established love of horror as a genre, but despite his affection for those hokey old Hammer and Amicus movies, this is an altogether more serious beast. He explains: “I’ve probably watched just about every portmanteau film there is, but these don’t really have that vibe. They’re much more about real horror than those Hammer type scares. People doing horrible things to other people or to themselves. There’s not really any ghosts or goblins in there. Weirdly, they’re probably closer to Hostel!”
When he’s not working on his own material, Colin is busy working with big names in comedy. Milton Jones cast him as the villain in his Comedy Lab pilot, House Of Rooms, and he took a turn as a camp psychic in Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s divisive BBC/HBO sitcom Life’s Too Short.
Later this year, his televisual star will be pushed further into ascent with a role in cult sci-fi smash Red Dwarf. Shrouded in secrecy, like every other aspect of the sitcom’s return to Dave, Colin is nevertheless keen to enthuse upon the pleasures of being involved in such a legendary production when the subject is broached. “It was great,” he divulges. “I was never a huge fan growing up, but I loved doing it.” He can tell us no more, but TVO can’t wait to see the results.
So what next for Colin? With so many projects on the go, is he able to keep an eye on what will follow them? “There are a few things going on that it’s too early to talk about,” he discloses, “but hopefully in the next few months something will happen that will allow me to take that next step.” And in twelve months time, where does Colin Hoult hope to see Colin Hoult? He stops for a moment, and then replies, with only a hint of a joke in mind: “Ibiza. Taking a well earned break.”