Jeremy Hardy: an Irreplaceable Comedic Voice

Jeremy Hardy during a recording of the BBC Radio 4 programme You’ll Have Had Your Tea

The late British stand-up comedian, radio commentator, radio-show panelist, scriptwriter (early on he did scripts for the award-winning puppet show Spitting Image), and Guardian columnist Jeremy Hardy had no American, or indeed British, equivalent.

If one can imagine an individual X with a politics well to the left of Michael Moore, who combined this politics with surrealistic alternations between the ferocity of a Lenny Bruce and an “oh so English” polite self-deprecation, there in an approximative nutshell was Jeremy Hardy and his comedy.

There are of course other British comedians who share Hardy’s political orientation. The superb Alexei Sayle, for instance, joined the British Communist Party as a teenager in 1968, though he let his membership lapse subsequently (while retaining his Marxism).

Moreover, the centrality of radio comedy is perhaps peculiarly British—well before he became the movie-superstar Inspector Clouseau, Peter Sellers, as well as the afore-mentioned Alexei Sayle, cut their comedic teeth on radio.

A staunch supporter of the Labour party, Hardy was of course implacably opposed to the Conservatives.

A couple of quips convey a sense of this vigorous opposition: “The only way you can ever accuse a Conservative of hypocrisy is if they walk past a homeless person without kicking him in the face” and “The Tories have taken on human form, which is when they’re at their most dangerous”.

A longtime friend of the current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, Hardy considered the “Tory lite” politics of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown to be a disaster bordering on betrayal. He said of voting Labour during the Blair-Brown ascendency that “To me, voting Labour is like wiping your bottom: I can’t say I like doing it but you’ve got to – because you’re in a worse mess if you don’t”.

Corbyn said about Hardy on Twitter after his death was announced: “Jeremy Hardy was a dear, lifelong friend. He always gave his all for everyone else and the campaigns for social justice. You made us all smile. You made us all think. Rest in peace, Jeremy.”

Hardy campaigned not only for Corbyn as Labour leader, but also for the Irish nationalist cause.

He put up part of the bail-money to free Róisín McAliskey, the then-pregnant daughter of Bernadette Devlin McAliskey, when the former was charged after an IRA mortar attack in Germany.  Hardy also supported the campaign to free Danny McNamee, wrongly convicted of involvement in the Provisional Irish Republican Army’s (IRA) Hyde Park bombing in July 1982.

The Palestinian struggle was central to Hardy’s politics. In 2002 he travelled to Palestine to make the film Jeremy Hardy Versus the Israeli Army, a documentary about the work of the International Solidarity Movement. While filming, he was caught up in the Israeli army siege of the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, which only confirmed him in his support for the Palestinian cause.

An anti-royalist, Hardy was once booed by a radio panel-show audience for calling the royal family “parasites”. He was absolutely right of course, but in Ukania it doesn’t pay even to be half-right about the royal family. Many children go through a phase in which they have an imaginary friend, but grow out of this eventually, while most Brits never grow out of having that one imaginary friend, namely, the royal family.

The supreme illogicality of someone having palaces and castles thrown at them just because they happen to be born to a particular family eludes these Brits.

The neofascist British National Party was another target of Hardy’s– Burnley town council cancelled a gig after he called for supporters of the BNP (which had 6 seats on the council) to be “shot in the back of the head”.

It would be wrong to think that Jeremy Hardy could only focus on politics.

He also told side-splitting jokes about being a parent, contemporary fashion, happy funerals (which he disliked), his family history, male-pattern baldness, and so on.

A taste of his repertoire is readily available on YouTube.

But the trenchant politics– always accompanied by an evident (albeit understated) warmth which disarmed Hardy’s opponents and critics– was at the core.

As Hardy said,“I do not see my job as keeping our rulers on their toes; I’d rather see them hanging by their feet”.

We have lost an irreplaceable comedic voice, and of course a great deal more.

Kenneth Surin teaches at Duke University, North Carolina.  He lives in Blacksburg, Virginia.