Interview with Charmian Hughes, comedian

Comedian Charmian Hughes talks to Voice about her show, empowerment, and gives advice to young people

Interview with Charmian Hughes, comedian

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

I’m Charmian Hughes, comedian. I’m a woman stand-up who’s been doing comedy since i was 28, but somehow I am now 62!

Tell us about your show?

My show ‘Charmian Hughes-Bra Trek’ is about how we find where we fit in the world and a bra that fits. But it's a show for blokes too - the bra is a metaphor for life- we want it to support us, give us uplift and have a point. 

We get so many false messages and wrong information as we grow up- from school friends, frenemies and fairy tales. No wonder we feel like outsiders! We are told we can’t begin to enjoy life till we are perfect. But most people arent perfect, and that’s what makes the world go round. To prove this I will share stories of my very embarrassing adolescence with you all, my first snog, my obsession with my nose and how I had to do ballet in my wellies. 

Why do you want to perform at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and is it different from other festivals?

Edinburgh is the biggest arts festival in the world. As a performer spending a month in the city, I get to see fantastic shows from all over the world and maybe ones that aren't so fantastic. It doesn't matter. I go with the attitude of enjoying other people's creativity. Performing there means lots of people from all over the world get to see you too. And you can meet other performers and enjoy totally different audiences.

Your show has a strong theme of empowerment. Are you inspired or comforted by the current Me Too movement, or is it still some ways from changing the status quo?

Yes I am very much. As a 62 year old woman who was a young woman in the seventies and eighties, I know exactly why ‘people didn't say anything at the time’. No one took it seriously, as if the trade-in for women being in the workplace at all was to have to tolerate boorish and sexist behaviour. Women were seen as spoilsports, fusspots, ‘taking things too seriously’,‘not being able to take a joke’, etc. Under the bluff of all that dismissive language much more serious predatory behaviour could go unchallenged. I’m really glad it has been challenged and brought to account and that there is now a language that defines it and laws that prohibit it.

What first motivated you to enter the industry? Who were your inspirations?

I worked in an advertising office, a dream job, but I felt very stifled and didn't really know why. So I joined a weekly evening class in Clowning just to make some different kind of friends. I was smitten! I ended up doing mime, juggling, acrobatics as well, and then when some of the other students formed a theatre company, I left my job and joined them. Soon I discovered stand-up comedy- wonderful because actually i was really bad at mime, juggling and acrobatics and much better at talking!

You’ve had a long career in comedy. Tell us about some of your highlights?

The Glastonbury Festival is the highlight of my year. (Not this year, as they are having a rest.) I went to my first one in 1984 when i was still in advertising, and was thrilled a year later to be performing as a clown there doing walkabout in the festival. After that I progressed to doing stand-up on the Cabaret Stage, and have now compered it many times. It's wonderful to do your stuff and then introduce the likes of Phil Nichol, Jeremy Hardy and Shappi Khorsandi to the stage. 

Another highlight has been performing in the New Zealand festivals for the last two years. They are really appreciative audiences and love to talk afterwards. They are really deep and you can run into people the next day who want to talk about how your show changed something in them- that is truly amazing!

And what have been some of the most challenging times of your career?

I’ve sort of had two careers! iImet my husband in my audience in 1994 when I was much more of a club and college circuit comedian, and we went on to have two children. While they were very young I continued my comedy, but I didn't want to travel very far from home or be away from them for long. The idea of motorway driving did not appeal either! So I trod water for about fifteen years- did London-centric gigs and emceed a lot- I still did Glastonbury cos we could all go together. As soon as my children were old enough to spend the summer at granny’s and friends without being emotionally traumatised I recranked my comedy, returned to the Edinburgh Fringe and since then have toured nine shows.

Do you ever feel any pressure to be a social commentator, or constantly update material to respond to events?

I feel internal pressure to be true to my life. The personal is political. I update my material so it is true to my experience and you can’t help but be affected by everything going on in the world. I can no longer assume people share my political beliefs either.

Equally, do you feel there has been a shift in public sentiment that has affected your work?

At the end of the last century you could still assume everyone shared the same values, that we were all compassionate. I am a bit worried about that now. You just have to look at the Daily Mail online readers comments (don’t, it's terrifying! I know I shouldn’t...) to see how people are so reactive, suspicious and snarling to any human interest story whether political or celebrity. 

What more can be done to make the arts accessible to people?

When I did my show Bra Trek in New Zealand in March, a woman in the audience hung around afterwards to say ‘I wish i could have brought my young women’s mental health group to your show.’ and I thought why she didn't ? And I realized my flyers and advertising hadn't done anything to invite them or make them feel it was for them. 

The year before- also in New Zealand- I‘d done a show about what your younger self would say to you now, and I had a similar experience. A young American woman doing an internship year in Wellington approached me in a bookshop. She had been depressed about being indecisive about her career, felt she was just wasting her time, but then saw my show and stayed up all night writing her diary in relief, she said ‘seeing you, I realized it doesn’t matter if you don’t know what you are doing.’ 

In life, I never knew what I was doing. I stumbled into comedy. I know I am not the most famous comedian in the world. But you know what, you don’t have to be. You don’t have to be perfect and you don’t need to know what you are doing (note- that does not apply to doctors or pilots). 

Art has to be relevant to people and it has to be affordable to people. Also so many shows are 18+ out of habit or due to licensing laws. I have reduced my entry age to 14+. Also, my show is on the free fringe- so if you are a younger person, a student and skint, and wanting to see it, you are most welcome! I would love to see you in my audience. Of course if you are rich please don’t let me stop you giving me loads of dosh.

Describe the last year in 5 words or less?

Down Under and On Top.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to take a show up to the fringe?

Go for it but be prepared! The fringe is massive- have dreams, be realistic, pace yourself and make sure you know who you can talk to if it all becomes too much.. 

And what advice do you wish you’d been given when entering the industry?

It takes time to learn a craft, forgive yourself for mistakes and failures, and try again.

When and where can people see your show?

3.35pm The Counting House West Nicolson Street. 2-26th Aug (not 13th) and the show lasts just under an hour.

No ticket required.


Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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