Kieran Hodgson is among the most talented comedians of his generation. His last three Fringe shows – Lance, a coming-of-age cycling tale; Maestro, in which he unpacked a youthful Mahler obsession; and ‘75, a show exploring the roots of Brexit – were all nominated for the Edinburgh Comedy Award. Only Al Murray and James Acaster have been nominated more. But it’s been five years since he brought a new hour to Edinburgh, and that delay isn’t purely pandemic-related.
“My previous shows were all built on autobiography,” Hodgson tells me. “But unfortunately, I'd run out of major life events by the time I was 30.” Thankfully for all of us, at age 35, another milestone of sufficient import came along: Hodgson moved from the bright lights of London to less-shiny Glasgow.
It’s a city he’d formed an opinion of at a young age thanks to his mum’s religious watching of Taggart, and these early preconceptions didn’t change much as an adult. “In my English mindset, Edinburgh was the mediaeval city where you went to put on your comedy show, and Glasgow was a lot of motorways and Ice Cream Wars.”
Hodgson started to rethink this rather limiting view of Scotland’s largest city after a couple of days filming on the set of the sitcom Lovesick. “We were in beautiful Pollockshields,” he recalls, “it was a gorgeous, sunny day, and I was like, ‘Why has no one told us about this?’ That's not to say that a city is redeemed by having wealthy places to live, it was just the sheer beauty of Glasgow that was completely unexpected.”
His appreciation of the city developed beyond its aesthetic after he landed a regular role on another Glasgow-set sitcom, Two Doors Down, alongside Scottish comedy legends Jonathan Watson and Elaine C Smith. “Working with those actors, who are very much an integral part of Glasgow’s fabric, I had a real opportunity to educate myself as to the city’s distinct culture,” he explains. “So that image of Glasgow as a uniformly desolate and violent place that I'm ashamed to say I grew up with as a kid has crumbled away and been replaced with something a lot more complicated, and a lot trickier to understand in many ways.”
The meat of Hodgson’s new show, Big in Scotland, sees him attempting to unpack the character of his new home. But as usual, he also turns the spotlight on himself. Early in Big in Scotland, he jokes that he grew up 'good English', aka Northern, and then spent most of his adult life becoming 'bad English', aka successful. It’s enough to bring on an existential crisis. “I grew up in Yorkshire, but I don't sound like I'm from there,” he explains. “I lived in London, but I wasn't from there. And now I live in Scotland as an English person. So yeah, that question of what do people in Scotland hear when I speak is central to the show.”
It’s apposite that Hodgson has made a career of digging into these swirling identities. After all, shapeshifting is what he’s become best known for. Besides his stellar Fringe runs and the sitcom stardom – not to mention his jaw-dropping Prince Andrew musical on Channel 4 – his biggest audience to date has surely come through his Bad TV Impressions on Twitter, where he’s shown an uncanny knack for skewering the UK’s favourite TV shows like Line of Duty and Happy Valley with videos in which he schizophrenically flips between characters.Funnily enough, it was his skill as a mimic and an ability to recreate last night's telly that got Hodgson started in this career in comedy in the first place. “As a kid, I would regurgitate Fawlty Towers and Blackadder. My parents found this endlessly charming, so then I did the same in the playground with stuff like Red Dwarf or Harry Enfield or The Simpsons. Basically, I became hooked on the effect that my silly voices had on people.”
We’re all hooked too.