The media may be full of scare stories about global warming, asteroid strikes and potential nuclear holocaust from North Korea but on his latest tour, comedian Lee Hurst has found most people’s concerns are much smaller-scale.
“When you ask people what their fears are it becomes hugely personal,” he says while on tour in Runcorn.
“You get the classics, like spiders and clowns, but last night [in Burnley] I had a woman tell me her fears were spiders and the face in her parents’ wardrobe. Apparently they had an ornately carved wardrobe, and as a little girl she could see a face in there. She was still scared as a 30-year-old.
“Another woman was scared of streetlights because when she was a kid she thought they were lights in the sky. It’s become almost a psychiatric show.”
The revelations came from Hurst’s tour Too Scared To Leave The House, in which the second half is based around confessions written down by his audience in the interval.
“One woman was scared of alien invasion,” laughs Hurst. “She wasn’t even taking the p***!
“Another was afraid of bananas, because when she was a child she was eating a banana sandwich and got stung by a wasp. She shouldn’t really be blaming the bananas for that!
“It’s amazing what people will share with you. It definitely makes it interesting for me. I’m playing it for laughs but I do try to offer advice to see if I can get people through it.”
The idea of devoting the second half of his show to audience-based material is something he has been developing, both through his last show Man Vs Woman – which apparently turned into something out of Jeremy Kyle some nights as couples began to disagree about their contributions to the show – and his MC-ing spots at his own Backyard Comedy Club in Bethnal Green.
“When I started stand-up I was notorious for not remembering what I had written down,” he says.
“I would often get to a point where I asked the audience if they had any questions and would improvise off them.
“I don’t really write down fully what I’m going to do now.”
The Backyard Comedy Club was the trigger for Hurst’s semi-retirement almost ten years ago. A former panellist on the BBC One comedy sports show They Think It’s All Over, he found himself focusing on the business, and taking on master of ceremonies duties most nights.
He returned to touring after the club closed in 2010 for a major building project.
The comedian has masterminded a project which saw a seven-storey Travelodge built on the site, with the comedy club taking over the ground floor.
“When we shut the club two years ago we realised there would be a delay to the project,” he says.
“I thought I would book some theatre shows and do a tiny tour to give the manager something to do.
“I did a few gigs at the end of 2010 and really enjoyed it.”
It has now turned into a full-blown 55-date affair, with Hurst having to get used to playing new spaces again.
“When you’re onstage you can’t see a great deal because of the lighting,” he says. “What affects you most is the sound of the room – you get used to the sound of your own space, but from theatre to theatre it changes.”
He admits he used to take breaks from performing at his own club, but would soon find himself returning to it.
“I would turn up and watch a couple of shows, and get itchy feet,” he says.
“I don’t want to be as involved in the business side this time. I’m not interested in running a bar.
“I used to MC a hell of a lot there. I will enjoy not having the responsibility of MC-ing, I’ll probably just do the opening weekend.
“It’s my own club, so if I want to turn up and do ten minutes I don’t need to ask anyone!”
When he will get the chance to walk on the stage of his new venue though is currently up in the air, after a disastrous leak delayed the club’s opening.
“Travelodge had agreed to take on the building, and later that same day a flood on the third floor took out all the ceilings,” he says.
The cause of the flood was traced to one plastic pipe, which sprung a leak sending water cascading down to the bottom-floor comedy club, only hours before the contractor’s insurance ran out.
“It looked like it was raining,” he says. “It showed the difference between the northern building firm, who were running around with their heads in their hands, while we were going around putting out buckets and whistling Singin’ In The Rain!”
The Old Market, Upper Market Street, Hove, Saturday, February 23. Starts 8pm, tickets £15. Call 01273 201801