Independent - February 3, 2008
How We Met: Sean Hughes & Mark Eitzel
Author: Simmy Richman
Date: February 3, 2008
Sean Hughes, 42, is a comedian, writer and actor who was born in London but grew up in Dublin. In 1987 he was the youngest ever winner of the Perrier Comedy Award. He lives in north London.
The first time I went to see Mark he was performing with American Music Club at the Grand in Clapham. It was February 1992 and they were being supported by The Band of Holy Joy. I'd liked what I'd heard of both acts so I went with a friend. Mark's band must have made an impression on me, because I went out straight after to buy the back-catalogue.
Some years later, I met Mark for the first time after a solo show at the Garage in Highbury. We immediately hit it off. It wasn't like high fives, but we got on. Having met Mark and liked him, I wrote about a character going to see him play in my first novel. Then I went to see him again at the Bloomsbury in London. For some reason I took a girl I'd just started seeing. I was just getting to know her but I somehow thought, "I know, let's go and see this pained performer who sings songs about how awful life is and how relationships don't work." Even more weirdly, she went out with me for a couple of years after that.
I'm kind of glad Mark doesn't know much about what I do and never saw me on Never Mind the Buzzcocks. It's not like that was really me using my brain cells. It's not like stand-up or writing books. And though it's not always wise in this industry to say that sort of thing, like Mark, I have no problem with burning bridges. It makes life more exciting. I have to tell the truth. And Mark shares that urge. The main thing we are different about is that I'd never do something just for money and he jokes that he would do anything for money.
Until you get to know him, Mark can be intimidating. I think he acts that way to protect himself. One of the first times we went out together, we ended up in some ethnic vegetarian place in Crouch End talking about broken relationships. All evening Mark had been his usual clever-soul self and I was chuffed to be getting to know him. When it was time to say goodbye, I said something awkward like, "It was great to see you," and he said, "Fuck off" and walked away. I realise now that he meant that in a really nice way. But back then I was intimidated. Mark can be strange like that. I've seen him do some of the greatest gigs and he'll come straight off stage and go, "We were shit. I'm so sorry."
I don't know Sean. I've never met him; this whole thing was set up as a publicity stunt by my record company. They'll do anything.
Oh, OK, I met Sean upstairs at the Garage after a show. Everyone was like, "Oh my God, there's a huge celebrity in the audience." Usually, it's really boring when you have to meet a celeb, so I was like, "Oh, man..." What usually happens is that you have this awkward moment where there's nothing to say and you end up talking about restaurants and clothes. It's never interesting and I had no idea who he was.
Then, when he came to the Bloomsbury, it was a really hard time for me. I was promoting my first solo record, I'd just come out [as gay] and my band were all unhappy hired musicians. But we met again, and it was a bit easier that time.
As we've got to know each other, I've started checking out Sean's stuff. His second book is genius and I've watched some of his act on YouTube. I still don't know much about him as a performer, but I do know that I genuinely love people on this side of the pond. They are all so sweet and wonderful and Sean is no exception.
We feel the same way about performing, so when Sean speaks out about [how he dislikes] some of his TV experiences, I can relate to it. I feel like that a lot and I can't even laugh or tell a joke about it. Instead, I internalise it and write miserable songs. But the truth is the truth and we both feel it is our duty to tell it. Having said that, while I admire Sean's lack of selling out, I have to admit that I would sell any of my songs for use in a commercial in a heartbeat. The difference between me and Sean is that I'm broke and there's no way for me to make money apart from that. So I'm a whore and he isn't.
Other than these minor details, we agree on practically everything. Essentially, we are both performers who put everything into what we do but resist falling into that egotistical thing of "Everything I do is art."
Like Sean with his stand-up, I put my heart and soul into what I do but I refuse to accept that I'm any kind of incredible artist. Which is not to say I don't take it personally. [AMC's guitarist] Vudi was telling me the other day how some kids asked him what band he was in and when he told them they said, "You suck." And he was laughing about it. I was like, "Vudi, man, don't laugh. Fuck them and fuck you. We don't suck." At the same time, I don't really value what we do. But, like Sean, every moment I'm on stage really matters to me and I'm happiest when I'm working my ass off.
The Golden Age by American Music Club is out on 4 February on Cooking Vinyl. The band is currently on a UK tour; for details, visit www.american-music-club.com. Sean Hughes' The Right Side of Wrong: Live is out now on DVD.