“You know when you discover a band that no one knows and then you love them and they get popular and it’s not as cool – conspiracy theory stuff is like that."
“You do know how far away you are when you get down there,” sighs Steve Hughes from his flat in snowbound Manchester. A long time ago, in what seems like another life, Hughes was neck-deep in Sydney's burgeoning '80s underground metal scene, drumming in bands such as Slaughter Lord, Mortal Sin and Nazxul. Having flirted with stand-up comedy in the '90s, Hughes finally dropped the sticks and upped sticks ten years ago, relocating to the UK to concentrate on his comedy.
Now, after years of building a profile on UK TV panel shows and tireless touring, the 'convict wizard' is playing in his native land to 1000-strong crowds instead of sparse rooms of 30 people. He often quips that, like AC/DC, England has given Australia permission to like him. But every time he returns down under, he despairs over how much of a nanny state Australia has become. “There's no news; bunch of cops; put your bike helmet on!” he says. “Australia's news is very funny; there's no one defending any liberalist agenda in the media in Australia. Even Great Britain is offering you the illusion of liberalism in the media, until you say something and Big Brother comes down on you, but in Australia there seems to be no one but rightwing commentators who are off the fucking planet. There's no one questioning the Powers That Be. Sending 30 cops to a train station on a Tuesday with drug dogs is a little extreme, but there never seems to be anyone questioning 'Why is this happening?'. Instead it's 'Isn't it great this is happening? We should have cops in schools! We should have cops in crèches and McDonald's'.”
Hughes is facing the day-long flight and temporary deprivation of liberties again this year to run the gauntlet of Australia's comedy festival circuit with his show, Big Issues. In it, the outspoken Hughes doesn't shrink from tackling any topics. Having long been a self-styled expert in conspiracy theories, he says at the moment he's writing some new material on that.
“I want to go completely over the top, just to ask people 'Do you know what conspiracy theories are?'. See, I've been involved in the alternative history world long enough to know who supposedly did what. But you say to someone: 'Do you know that America took Nazi rocket scientists and got them out of being executed and took them back to the States, and Operation Paperclip, and used them to design nuclear weapons?' – 'No.' You think that people have a general idea about this stuff but they don't.
“You know when you discover a band that no one knows and then you love them and they get popular and it's not as cool – conspiracy theory stuff is like that. People get really excited when they think they've discovered secret information. And then they start to believe everything. It's the realm of disinformation, so you have to remain rational and instinctual.”
It's possible Hughes will be extra grouchy on this year's comedy circuit because he will have to leave behind his English girlfriend, who can be heard in the background as we chat. “I met a woman who's completely normal and lovely and into extreme metal,” says Hughes, who once joked that he was the hottest-looking chick on the Sydney underground metal scene. “She's even into metal that's too extreme for me, at three in the morning. She's got to wait for me to finish this interview so she can turn up Autopsy. She's a fucking good girl.”
WHAT: Steve Hughes: Big Issues
WHEN & WHERE: Saturday 1 June, SICF,