The best medicine

It was a big step, leaving medicine for a career in comedy. But the odd 'bad night' on stage is a breeze compared to nights of watching patients die. And Harry Hill hasn't had a bad night in a long time

The most scary thing in all the world must be looking back on your life and wishing you had done something else with it. There are moments when we all stand before crossroads that are marked "safe" or "scary". Safe is the predictable job that never stimulates you but you never leave, safe is the good-job-nice-personality partner who eventually leads you to a Valium addiction. Scary is the unknown, the untried, the potentially bloody exciting.

Harry Hill trod the safe path for quite a long time: school, O levels, A levels, medical school, becoming a doctor. Then one day he decided to become a comedian. "It was a huge, huge thing for me to do. I'd never taken any risks before and so I'm amazed I did it, it has completely changed my life. So many things have happened that otherwise never would have happened," he explains. Like meeting his wife, Magda, who plays a postman in the black and white film "The Boy with the Big Face" on his Man Alive! video - a macabre little tale about a boy who gets repeatedly beaten about the face by a lollipop lady and ends up with a big flat face. There is no redeeming Brady Bunch-style moral to this story either, other than that lollipop women can turn. In July, Mr and Mrs Hill had their first child, Kitty.

But before all this, Hill dreamed, like so many, of escape. "Everyone waits for things to happen to them. When I was a doctor, I used to think about doing something different, being an actor or a writer, but I thought what will happen is someone like Michael Winner will come in ill and I'll treat him and he'll say 'why don't you be in my film?'" Eventually, he realised that Michael was too busy eating dinner to come and carry him off, and seven years ago, Hill made the move himself.

The jolly path to comedy did not, of course, run smoothly straight away. Hill did some good nights and some bad nights, but, in a very matter of fact way, he explains that being a comedian is like any other job: "The more you do it, the better you get at it." Despite all that, right from the start, he loved it. "It was just fantastic, I found the whole thing so exciting and I'd been so fed up." One of Hill's first gigs was at a club in Greenwich, for which he was paid pounds 80 cash. "It was like a real wad. I was driving back and I had to stop in a layby and count it. I'd never been paid in cash before and suddenly, I was Mr Cash."

Harry Hill (real name Matthew Hall) was born in Kent and is only 33, although he looks older, especially on television. He is a funny little man, to look at, with his big shoes and skinny trousers and big collars. A friend of his described him as "very intelligent and charming", but then, that's what friends are for. There were times when I couldn't work out if he was making stuff up to see if I would question it ("doctors' writing is so bad because they're in a hurry"), but he was punctual, a quality I admire ('we must be the last two"), remembered - and correctly pronounced - my name and, despite me nervously scoffing toffees, offered me half his sandwich several times, which was caring and kind.

He has won quite a few awards: including the coveted Perrier award for Best Newcomer in 1992 and the Independent on Sunday Best Comedy Award in 1994. He has had radio shows (Fruit Corner), a series of black and white films on BBC2 (Fruit Fancies), videos, appearances on the US David Letterman Show, twice. But what really brought him to the masses was an eight-week run of Harry Hill programmes shown earlier this year, on Channel Four that went out on Friday nights, just after Frasier. Now, he is golden boy and, of course, he worries about whether it will last. "I think about the future all the time, oh yes. But I don't have any answers."

Hill pioneered "cut-up comedy", he sets a joke off at the beginning of his routine, then another, then another. Like spinning plates he returns to them at random, to keep them going. (He talks quite like this, too, often giving a follow-on answer to a question asked some time ago.) His humour reminds me of the jokes and teasing one gets at dinner parties, or after holidays - wherever a group of people have got together and made their own little, private jokes. He doesn't "tell jokes", there are no political observations, no faux storytelling of men in pubs. His humour is bonkers and about nothing in particular - the funniest things often are.

Coming to comedy relatively late, and having done "something else", gave Hill a perspective. "And you need that in comedy because you do have nights when it didn't go well, but having been a doctor and seeing people die... well, bad nights are pretty trivial compared to that." But even when the audience love him, Hill is very self-critical. "This is the only way to get better. I see some acts around and they haven't got any better at all and they come off stage and you say 'how did it go?' and they say 'fantastic, great' and you think 'hmmm'."

When Hill did the Letterman show, he stood in the wings of the Ed Sullivan theatre in New York waiting to go on. "That's where Elvis did his first TV appearance and there I was, standing in that very spot, it was unbelievable." So, if you're reading this and the thought of going to work tomorrow doesn't fill you with quite as much joy, Harry has this advice. "People think, 'I'd like to be a singer', but they think those are 'it can't happen to me' sort of jobs. What I've learnt is that you really can go for something. Life is too short, it's the only relevation you need."

Harry Hill is on a UK Tour from 7 November. For the tour hotline, call 0891 887766, calls cost 50p a minute. His new live video 'Harry Hill Man Alive!' is out on PNE.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Life and Style
tech
News
The Commonwealth flag flies outside Westminster Abbey in central London
news
Arts and Entertainment
Struggling actors who scrape a living working in repertory theatres should get paid a 'living wage', Sir Ian McKellen has claimed
theatre
News
Skye McCole Bartusiak's mother said she didn't use drink or drugs
peopleActress was known for role in Mel Gibson film The Patriot
Arts and Entertainment
tvWebsite will allow you to watch all 522 shows on-demand
Arts and Entertainment
filmThe Rock to play DC character in superhero film
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    C# .Net Developer

    £23000 - £35000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: C# .Net Develop re...

    Electronics Design Engineer

    £35000 - £45000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: My client are l...

    Senior BI Engineer (BI/MI, Data Mining)

    £60000 - £65000 per annum + Bonus & Benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior BI Enginee...

    IT Teacher

    £100 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Chelmsford: We are seeking a teacher o...

    Day In a Page

    Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

    The 'scroungers’ fight back

    The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
    Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

    Fireballs in space

    Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
    A Bible for billionaires

    A Bible for billionaires

    Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
    Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

    Paranoid parenting is on the rise

    And our children are suffering because of it
    For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

    Magna Carta Island goes on sale

    Yours for a cool £4m
    Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

    Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

    Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

    For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

    Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
    Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

    Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

    They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
    The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

    20 best days out for the summer holidays

    From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
    Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

    All the wood’s a stage

    Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
    Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

    Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

    Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
    Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

    Self-preservation society

    Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
    Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

    Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

    We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor