Comedian Craig Hill talks kilts, cabaret and why it’s important things are tough early on in a career

At the tender age of 10 years old Scottish comedian Craig Hill displayed his winning talent, performing as a Seventies jazz singer in an East Kilbride talent contest.
The Queen Margaret University drama graduate has been swinging his trademark kilts on stages throughout the world ever since though there’s still cabaret and panto on his bucket list to tick off. Craig tells Susie Daniels why he has a friend to thank for his enduring success…

Are there any off limits topics on stage?
I’ve never been very political or personal. I wouldn’t talk about my personal life. I’ve never been that kind of comedian. People always think if I know them I’ll pick on them in the audience but I don’t do that. It’s so much more fun when I choose someone in the audience with limited information and I’m just getting to know them.

Would you ever do I’m a Celebrity or Strictly?
I wouldn’t do I’m A Celebrity. I wouldn’t put bugs in my mouth. I would be sick! I would do Strictly for the dancing and the joy. It’s a really different skill. It’s fun and glamorous. I’d just be myself and have a bit of a laugh.

Your first comedy shows were on the BBC’s ‘Live Floor Show’ with Frankie Boyle, Reverend Obbediah Steppenwolfe III, Bob Doolally and Miles Jupp around 20 years ago. What was that like?
It’s very rare you’d do TV so early on in your career. You had to narrow your material down to one subject each week, for example, on a topic like weddings. You had to write for the team, change and edit it every week. I wanted it to be funny so the programme would be good. We all knew and liked each other and were very supportive of each other. It was as close as I got to a nine to five job.
I would be reading newspapers on Monday and Tuesday I would be in a room writing and Thursday I was performing it. It took me a long time to improvise – around seven years and weirdly it’s what I’m most known for.

Did you start off nervously shaking when you first stepped on stage?
I was always more excited and buzzed up. I say to young comedians, ‘look forward to it’. I still care a lot but I just don’t get nervous.

Your trademark outfit is a kilt. Is that your favourite item of clothing?
I don’t wear a kilt in ‘real’ life! I remember having a Xmas party and I thought, ‘I can’t wear a kilt’. It’s an important part of me getting into character. I’ve worn kilts on stage for 21 years.

Your show always has an injection of camp – is that you or the character?
My comedy is always Scottish first and camp second. You kind of become an exaggerated version of yourself. I come from East Kilbride and I never really had any problems in schools. I moved to Edinburgh to study drama and didn’t come out until I was 19 years old. What better place to come out than there!

Who’s young and fresh on the comedy circuit right now?
I’m touring and never in comedy clubs when I’m not performing, so I don’t often get to see other comedians’ shows. Daniel Sloss and I have the same agent. He takes very dark subjects and makes them funny. He’s very talented and driven.
The comedy circuit has a real sense of family especially during the festivals. It’s really weird when I do the comedy festival in Australia. You see all the people you know over there. It’s like a family network.

Sasha Baron Cohen, well known for Borat, The Dictator and Ali G, recently acted in the serious dram Spy on Netflix. Is serious acting something you’ve considered given your drama training background?
I would absolutely love to do something like that. I’ve played a Glasgow barman in a short film. I would really enjoy being an actor. Comedy literally took me back to theatre going to all the theatre venues. I never realised that would happen.

What first lured you into comedy and who were you influenced by?
I had no intention of getting into comedy. A friend of mine was a press officer at the Gilded Balloon. She booked me a gig. I said to her, ‘I’m not funny and not a comedian’ but she said, ‘I think you are’.

image by Steve Ullathorne

Any superstitions or requests before going on stage?
I do have a strict routine and warm-up. If I’m doing a show in a theatre at 8pm I arrive at 4pm. I quite enjoy being in the space. You arrive in an unfamiliar space doing a familiar job getting to know everyone in the theatre so the audience are coming into your space. I go through every line on stage before I do the show. I think it’s because I trained as an actor to always be prepared. I’m fastidious and religious about it.

So you’ve got a tight set?
Yes, I’ve got a tight set. I think that should be the title of my new touring show.

Starting out, what was the toughest thing to learn or overcome?
It’s really important to have gigs that are a little bit sh*t early on. It’s really important to get back on the horse, as my agent would say, as quick as you can.

What’s your advice to students planning to become comedians?
Say yes to everything very early on. I travelled for four hours to Manchester to do a show for practically no money and sometimes losing money if I stayed overnight. I did rough bars in Paisley early on in my career. I didn’t know they were scary places when I said yes.

What’s been the ‘pinch yourself’ moment of your career?
I never expected to perform at the Sydney Opera House. I was told I’d be doing it and thought, ‘it’s just 5 minutes’ but I never thought I would do the main stage. The acoustics were amazing because it’s really for opera. Even though it was only five minutes it’s a moment I’ll never forget.

Craig Hill performs at the Ayr Gaiety Theatre on Saturday 28th March – sadly this show is now cancelled due to coronavirus.