How I wish I’d made Sean Hughes that daal

Hardeep Singh Kohli

The Herald on Sunday - - WEEK IN PERSPECTIVE - Hardeep Singh Kohli is a Scot­tish writer and broad­caster. Fol­low his an­tics @mis­terhsk

HA R - DEEP!” It’s hardly un­usual to hear my name shouted across a street dur­ing the Ed­in­burgh Fringe. But this “Hardeep” was ac­cented with a uniquely Ir­ish brogue. It was an up­beat shout, not the sort you wor­ried about ad­dress­ing. “Hardeep!”

I turned my head to­wards the har­bin­ger of hap­pi­ness. In the decade or so I had known Sean Hughes I must have heard him say my name a few dozen times. But no mat­ter how many times I heard him speak “Hardeep”, I would al­ways be in­cred­u­lous.

One of my com­edy he­roes, the man who changed how I thought about, wrote and per­formed com­edy, knew who I was – and he al­most al­ways seemed happy to see me. If I’d known 10 weeks ago, as I crossed that Ed­in­burgh street to meet Sean that it would be the last time we spoke, per­haps we’d have done more than our usual rit­u­al­is­tic self-be­rate­ment for never see­ing each other ex­cept dur­ing the eighth month of the year in Scot­land’s cap­i­tal. That would be fol­lowed by him sug­gest­ing we meet up for a glass of some­thing when I was next in the Smoke. It would con­clude with me promis­ing to come round to his place and cook him a Pun­jabi veg­e­tar­ian feast. (He seemed to love my daal.) Maybe this time I would have ac­tu­ally fol­lowed through, dropped him a text and made an ar­range­ment. I thought about it. Thought. But I didn’t ac­tu­ally hit send. And now I never will. It wouldn’t be true to say that Sean and I were close friends. We weren’t. He wasn’t an easy man to be close

to from my point of view. He was a hero. The year I got mar­ried, Sean be­came the youngest ever re­cip­i­ent of the Per­rier Com­edy Award. His show, A One Night Stand, was a tour de force of funny and, at just 24 years old, the world lay at his feet. He had only been per­form­ing for three years. He played a record pro­ducer in Alan Parker’s The Com­mit­ments, and I still smile think­ing about how he nailed the part.

A few years later my brothers and I had our lives changed by Sean’s Show, a Chan­nel 4 sit­com that changed the game for Bri­tish TV. I might be wrong, but Sean’s Show was the first stab Bri­tish TV had at a gen­uinely post-mod­ern com­edy. The con­ceit was sim­ple enough. Heav­ily in­spired by It’s Garry Shan­dling’s Show, Sean played a ver­sion of him­self who lived in a sit­com. It broke the fourth wall. He had a spi­der who was in fact Elvis Pres­ley and would an­swer phone mes­sages from Sa­muel Beck­ett. I still smile think­ing about how the char­ac­ter Sean would start play­ing jazz be­fore he an­swered the phone to give the im­pres­sion of ur­ban so­phis­ti­ca­tion. I smile be­cause I did the same thing in real life. His was funny; mine was arch pre­ten­tious­ness.

I first met Sean at the end of the last decade. We were both play­ing the same room at the Gilded Bal­loon; ob­vi­ously he had the main slot. We would cross over in the dress­ing room as I came off and he got ready to go on. I re­mem­ber be­ing ner­vous at hav­ing to meet him; pre-stage per­form­ers are not al­ways the eas­i­est peo­ple to make small talk with as you try to judge the best mo­ment to tell them how much their work has in­spired your own. But Sean was a de­light. He was pretty much as he was on­stage. Sweet, funny, very Ir­ish.

The fol­low­ing year I was do­ing my curry chat show, Chat Masala, and he agreed to come on as a guest. I was over­joyed. I had over 100 guests that year but he will al­ways be the most mem­o­rable. A few of us who knew him have been con­sol­ing and remembering him. Maybe win­ing the Per­rier so early in his ca­reer didn’t help him as much as it might have. And while he had some amaz­ing high­lights I’m not sure he ever hit the heights his pro­found tal­ent de­served. He had a rest­less­ness about him. But what do I know?

As I write, my face a con­tra­dic­tion of tears and smiles, I know that the com­edy com­mu­nity and those who love watch­ing com­edy have lost a be­he­moth, a Her­cules in an ever-more Lil­liputian world. I’ll binge-watch and lis­ten to all the Sean’s Shows I can get hold of. I’ll con­tinue to cry and laugh and smile. I feel very lucky to have met Sean Hughes, luck­ier still to have been able to call him a friend.

My only re­gret was not cook­ing him that daal. If you take one thing from this please, should you have the chance, carpe diem. Or carpe daal.

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