Dave Hughes is, like many comedians, a man who has polished his inadequacies until they shine like little jewels. By his own admission, his job has been laughing at his own ridiculousness. In the decade since his stand-up career began, he's become one of our most loved humorists, an extraordinary talent who's convinced us all that he's just an ordinary guy. ANDREW DENTON: Welcome. DAVE HUGHES: Thanks for having me. ANDREW DENTON: Thanks for coming. DAVE HUGHES: Nah. It's a pleasure. ANDREW DENTON: I want to take you back to your first day at prep school. Do you remember that? DAVE HUGHES: I do remember that, yes. That was actually a traumatic day for me because, obviously, I was starting school and that was freaking me out, but one thing that did freak me out was that the coat hangers where you're meant to put your bags all had names above each hook signifying, obviously, the name where you were meant to put your hook. And everyone else could find their hook 'cause they knew their name but I, at that age, wasn't able to recognise my own name. So I was left alone thinking possibly I'm retarded. ANDREW DENTON: So how long did you stand there just holding onto your coat? DAVE HUGHES: Well, for quite a while. I started crying. I used to cry a lot at school early on. ANDREW DENTON: What sort of stuff made you cry? DAVE HUGHES: Any time the teacher would come around and stamp some people's work with like a little...roses or something, if I missed out on roses, I would be crying. I was just a shocker, absolutely. ANDREW DENTON: Actually, you'd cry if you didn't make the footy team, didn't you? DAVE HUGHES: Well, yeah, I was in Year 9 and I missed the junior school footy team and I went into the toilets and cried my eyes out. ANDREW DENTON: At Year 9? DAVE HUGHES: At Year 9. ANDREW DENTON: Not that there's anything wrong with that. DAVE HUGHES: I remember being in love with a schoolteacher when I was in Year 9, and she didn't give me a very good mark once on one assignment and I cried, thinking she didn't love me. ANDREW DENTON: Which later proved to be wrong? DAVE HUGHES: I did ring her up when I was about 19 and had another crack at her. ANDREW DENTON: Any luck? DAVE HUGHES: No, still no luck. But I think she was flattered. ANDREW DENTON: Yeah. Why the crying? Were you a fragile child? DAVE HUGHES: I was a very sensitive kid. I mean, I...I don't know why. Now I like to look back and think that I was a deep thinker and I was crying at all the world's problems. I don't know. I just used to cry heaps. ANDREW DENTON: When you were little, you didn't want to go to a co-ed school 'cause you were scared of girls. What were you scared they'd do? DAVE HUGHES: Just mock me. Every time that I...I was just paranoid about girls, absolutely, like...I think it happened in grade six. One girl...I distinctly remember a girl saying to me that I made her skin crawl. And...at the time, I didn't take that well. ANDREW DENTON: Yes. DAVE HUGHES: And I seriously was scared of girls and every time... I said to Mum, "I just want to go to a boys school 'cause I think girls don't like me." ANDREW DENTON: You didn't get invited to the deb ball, which is where the boys school and the girls school get together. Was that a devastating moment? DAVE HUGHES: It was amongst a series of devastating moments. Yes, it was. I just thought I was unlovable, honestly, I did. ANDREW DENTON: Really? DAVE HUGHES: Absolutely. I was... Yes, I thought no girl was ever gonna love me. It's true! LAUGHTER ANDREW DENTON: I'm empathising totally. And that's very difficult. How old were you. About 16? DAVE HUGHES: 16, yeah. Absolutely. ANDREW DENTON: And all the hormones are raging round your body. DAVE HUGHES: Oh, yeah, absolutely. You wanna kiss everyone and no-one will let you. It was shocking, honestly. It used to keep me awake at night. Oh, well, no, it wouldn't keep me awake at night. Seriously, though, I could not... I was just very shy with girls and, um... Even when I became less shy, I still wasn't getting anywhere. ANDREW DENTON: You joke about this, actually, onstage, but how old were you when you lost your virginity? DAVE HUGHES: Er...well, look... LAUGHTER DAVE HUGHES: When I told my mates I lost it, I was 18. ANDREW DENTON: Yeah. DAVE HUGHES: When I actually lost it, I was 22. So, yes. But I'd had...I mean, I had opportunities before then. ANDREW DENTON: Did you? DAVE HUGHES: I did, absolutely. But I was always...I had a problem. Like, whenever I was given an opportunity by a girl - I probably had four opportunities before then - I would freak out and get stage fright and not be able to perform, which was terrible. AUDIENCE TITTERS ANDREW DENTON: That is terrible. DAVE HUGHES: I remember my first-ever time I had a chance with a girl, we went back to her house - she was quite a bit older than me, I think I was 18. And I could not...nothing happened that night and the next morning I was so ashamed that she went to have a shower and I just jumped over the back fence and ran home. I got home, told all my mates, who'd seen me leave the nightclub with the girl, I said, "Yep, it happened, boys." Yeah. And it hadn't. ANDREW DENTON: And so when it finally did happen, this must have been a vast relief. DAVE HUGHES: Look, it was... LAUGHTER DAVE HUGHES: It was a vast relief, and I mean... And it...look, to be honest, it took a professional to make it happen, I must say. AUDIENCE SNIGGERS DAVE HUGHES: I'm sure my girlfriend's parents are gonna be glad that they're watching this, but, yes, it did, yes. ANDREW DENTON: What happened? DAVE HUGHES: I was 22, I was living in Perth. A friend of mine at the time said, "We've got to make this happen." 'Cause I'd told everyone by this time. I was trying to get sympathy at every corner. And he said, "We're gonna make it happen." And I said, "Well, what do you mean?" He said, "I'm gonna take you somewhere and it's gonna happen." And I said, "Look...what?!" I mean, I couldn't make it happen when there was no clock ticking, so when the clock's ticking, how the hell am I gonna make it happen? And he took me to a place which I'd obviously never been to before and there was all these girls there and he said...and I had to pick, and I...I picked a girl who looked gentle. I explained the situation to her, you know, and she was very understanding and, er, well, she made it happen. And I was very happy. ANDREW DENTON: Very grateful. And, look, I don't mean to turn this into a sex therapy session, I do apologise, but after that, was the problem gone? Were you no longer...? DAVE HUGHES: Er, I mean... It reappeared from time to time. The overall problem was gone, yes, Andrew, yes. Pretty much, yes, hmm. ANDREW DENTON: But the good thing is, when you're about 60, you can do those ads Pele is doing. DAVE HUGHES: Yes, I will be able to do those ads, yes. If those drugs had've been around at the time, maybe I would have got there before 22. ANDREW DENTON: You were the dux of your school. DAVE HUGHES: I was. And your school reports also said, "Could do better." DAVE HUGHES: Yes. ANDREW DENTON: How did you manage both? DAVE HUGHES: I was the dux of a very bad year. I swear to God...I was. I was dux of the school and if I wanted to do chiropractory, I wouldn't have been able to. I didn't get a very good score. But we had a shocker year that year. I mean, every other year... I had remembered that the dux of the previous year had got introduced to the school the next year at the first assembly of being the best person from the last year. I was waiting for my call in February and it never came. They ignored me. ANDREW DENTON: Is that right? DAVE HUGHES: Well, it is right. ANDREW DENTON: When you left school, you did all sorts of jobs including working at an abattoir - what did you do there? DAVE HUGHES: I used to wash the sheep carcasses as they come off the line. I was the last person to deal with the carcasses. Mm. I went to university, actually, for six weeks and quit - doing computing. Back in 1989, just before it took off. So I was there for six weeks and I quit that because I didn't want to live in Melbourne. I was happy to live with my mates back in Warrnambool and so I worked in an abattoir. ANDREW DENTON: You tried everything, didn't you? You did a whole lot of stuff - you were a bricklayer, a shop assistant. And you've talked about this onstage. You'd always get fired. Why did you get sacked from so many things? DAVE HUGHES: 'Cause I wasn't very competent. I wasn't good with... 'Cause I was doing jobs like bricklaying - I was a bricklayer's labourer, so I wasn't actually a bricklayer. I was the guy who used to mix the mud and I couldn't mix good mud. It's very...you've got to get the right amount of cement to the right amount of water to the right amount of sand. And I just couldn't get it right. And I was so paranoid that I'd always put a bit more of something else in, 'cause I thought it wasn't right, so I'd be there for about an hour. And then I'd wheelbarrow it over to them and they'd go, "That's crap," and just pour it out. I'd be left there going, "Sorry." So it was tough. ANDREW DENTON: Were you a goer at all these jobs that you tried? 'Cause your stage act is, of course, as somebody that just is a bit lazy, didn't care. DAVE HUGHES: No, but I was a goer. I did try. But because I failed, then I'd pretend that I was lazy to people, when I actually tried my hardest, you know. I started a job once as a bricklayer's labourer and I was trying really hard, and 15 minutes into the job, the guy in charge said, "We're gonna have to let you go." This is 15 minutes in. ANDREW DENTON: What had you done? DAVE HUGHES: I don't know. I said, "What, the economy's taken a bad turn, has it?" But he said, "Look, mate, you look like a dreamer. You're gonna walk off the scaffolding. Just go now." But I turned that into a joke. I'd just started doing stand-up then. So all those times I'd get sacked, I'd take it straight to stage and get a laugh out of it and make it OK. I went to the stage that night and said, "Yeah, I got sacked today from my bricklaying job, 15 minutes in and the guy sacked me." And in the joke I go, "And I said to him, "'What are we doing tonight? Are we gonna go out and send me off?' "'How's me super looking? "'Am I going to be OK?'" So... ANDREW DENTON: When you were 22, you gave up drinking. DAVE HUGHES: I did, yes. ANDREW DENTON: Absolutely gave up drinking. DAVE HUGHES: Absolutely, yep. ANDREW DENTON: Why is that? DAVE HUGHES: I hadn't even turned 22. I was 21 still. 'Cause I had...from the age of probably 15 to 21, every time I...almost every time I drank, I got so drunk that I couldn't remember, do you know what I mean? So it was like, I wasn't very good at it. ANDREW DENTON: Was this what all your mates did as well? DAVE HUGHES: Pretty much. A few of them were hard-core. I was one of the hard-core ones who used to do it all the time. So, yeah, but I just...it really was getting to me... I mean, I was getting locked up, you know, not for being violent but I just used to fall asleep on the road and stuff, you know. And I'd wake up in the police cells and go, "Well, I don't want to be here."... One of the last times I ever drank, I went out, we started, I think, about midday...and then it got to about four in the afternoon - we'd been drinking a lot - and then all of a sudden it was ten in the morning and I woke up and I was at home, thinking, "Wow, have I been abducted by aliens?" I...seriously I didn't know what had happened for about...what, for 12 hours or longer. And I walked out into the lounge room and my mother said, "I see you've achieved your objective," and I said, "What do you mean?" She said, "Your day in court." And she showed me like an arrest sheet, which I didn't even remember, which had shown that I'd been in the cells for four hours, they'd let me out and I'd gone home, and I still couldn't even remember going home, do you know what I mean? I must have been that drunk. And then a few days later I got pulled over by a taxi and he said... I said, "What's going on?" He said, "Don't you remember me?" I said, "No." He said, "Well, I picked you up from the police cells and dropped you home, and you said you were going in to get some money. You never came out." So by that point I thought, "Right, maybe I've got an issue here." And I haven't, like... A few weeks later I gave up. ANDREW DENTON: That takes an enormous amount of discipline. It's one thing to cut it down or to say you're going to, and do it for a little while, but you've never drunk since. Was it a hard thing to do? DAVE HUGHES: Well, I started, I think it was in November of 1992 and I said I'm not going to drink till Christmas Eve, right? So it was like six weeks, including my birthday, so it was a fair time as, like, a 21-year-old just before I turned 22. And that was hard. Those six weeks were really hard 'cause my friends were used to me, like, being one of the ringleaders, and they're going, "What are you doing?" and I said, "I'm just going to have a break for a little while." And I got to Christmas Eve of that year and, which for me was always the biggest night of the year - Christmas Eve you got absolutely rotten - and I just, I thought, now, hang on, if I drink now, I'm going to be just like I was before. And I just said, well, that's it. And that was like 11, 12 years ago now. ANDREW DENTON: Was there also a sense of ambition allied with this - that if you kept drinking, you were basically going to stuff your life up? DAVE HUGHES: Yeah, there was, actually. 'Cause, I mean, I'd read...a little bit previously I'd read that every time you lose memory while you drink, you injure your brain. And I thought, well, hang on, that happens every time I drink. I must be running out of brain cells. And so, yeah, I could see a pattern that I thought I was going down, or a road I was going down - I didn't want to go down that road. So, yeah, I just stopped. Yeah. ANDREW DENTON: What was your first stand-up gig like? DAVE HUGHES: Um...terrible. I'd been dreaming about it for about, what, eight years. I remember I went to bed one night as a 13- or 14-year-old and thought, "I know what I want to do. I want to be a comedian." It was always in my head. And it wasn't till I was 22 that I started. I was in Perth. I was bumming around doing the labouring jobs and I thought, "I'm going to have a crack." And I went onstage, not very well prepared, and I just died - I was just horrible. The lights come in your eyes and I just...it was like I was being interrogated. It was like, I felt like my whole life was just...I was just kidding myself, you know, so... ANDREW DENTON: How could you not be well prepared? I mean, this is a big thing to do - to go in front of an audience and say, "Listen to me." DAVE HUGHES: Yeah, well, I didn't realise that until I'd got in front of them. LAUGHTER ANDREW DENTON: Well, what were you thinking? DAVE HUGHES: I was thinking I'd tell a few jokes, a few stories about my life and that they'd laugh, but then they didn't. So...I felt terrible...but I still wanted to do it so I thought, "If I don't do it next week, I'll never do it again." So I went back to the same club the next week and basically talked about how I'd died the week before and got a bit of a laugh, and so sort of went from there. ANDREW DENTON: When did you realise that the comedy was working for you? DAVE HUGHES: Uh, probably my third gig ever was...I felt like I killed. I may not have. If I looked at the tape, I probably didn't. But from that moment, I...walked off with just this huge high and I thought, "Wow, this is... I will never not want to do this." And from that moment... From the third gig... First two I did, I didn't do it for six months 'cause I was so... It just did my head in. So I thought, not going to...I can't get to it again. And then six months later there was an ad in the paper - "New comedians wanted." I rang it up, it was the same place and they remembered me. And they said, "Come on, have another crack," and so I went back and that night... I remember walking onstage that night - the third time I'd ever done it - and as I walked on, I literally had the thought, "Because you've been able to walk onstage, you've already won." And that thought relaxed me and I walked on and I thought I had a great gig and from then I was like hooked on it. ANDREW DENTON: Are you in a position anymore where you'd die? Because you're a headline act now. Do you ever die anymore? DAVE HUGHES: Not as much as I used to. I mean, I have, I mean, if you go into new environments you can die. I went over and did Edinburgh a few years ago, and I did this club, Late and Live, which starts at one in the morning and it's advertised as "Come to the comedy abattoir." Where they, you know, a thousand comedians have been slain. But I was cocky by this point, you know. I thought...I've never been overseas but I thought, "No, they'll laugh just like they laugh in, you know, Australia." I walked onstage and started speaking and 200 people just had a chant, "Eff off, Aussie, eff off!" That was a tough gig. ANDREW DENTON: Yeah. (Laughs) Was a part of you mentally up the back of the room, giggling at yourself? DAVE HUGHES: No, I couldn't giggle at myself then... I was just crying. But looking back you get a laugh, you know. It's like failure is funny. ANDREW DENTON: ...I know some of your friends have sometimes had a go at you 'cause you've used stuff from their lives in your stage act. Do you draw the line anywhere? Is everything material? DAVE HUGHES: Uh...oh, almost, almost... I mean...I've had problems in relationships in the past where I've talked about stuff and it's been a problem. ANDREW DENTON: Such as? DAVE HUGHES: I can't really talk about it now. But, yeah, look, the bedroom activities - should probably run that by your girlfriend at the time before you take that onstage. ANDREW DENTON: So what's the thought process then when you're thinking, "Oh, well, I'll just use this bit." Is part of you going, "Perhaps I should check"? DAVE HUGHES: Part of you is going, "She'll never hear this." And then...but it becomes funny so you keep doing it. And then she possibly does hear down the track, and if you catch her on a bad day, it's not funny. ANDREW DENTON: No. LAUGHTER ANDREW DENTON: And then when she has a go at you for it, does that become further material? DAVE HUGHES: Well, it depends whether she threatens physical violence or not and if she doesn't it can, but, yeah, or sometimes you do stop. I have stopped routines before. ANDREW DENTON: What about your current relationship? Is there material in that? DAVE HUGHES: Absolutely. All the time. But, I mean, she, I'd say because she met me a couple of years ago now and she'd known that I was a comedian, I try to say to her, "Look, you knew what you were getting into. This is part of the deal, alright?" ANDREW DENTON: Does that work, 'cause I know you do breakfast radio and part of the breakfast radio is if anything at all happened to you the previous day, it's on air the next morning. DAVE HUGHES: Absolutely. Yeah. ANDREW DENTON: Is there a strain there sometimes? DAVE HUGHES: It definitely is a strain, absolutely it is. There's often a strain, she often...oh, not often, just every now and again there's a strain with different things that I've said in the past. But...we sort of met through breakfast radio, actually, as in, I met her out at a nightclub and I was out at this nightclub with my mate and she was there with some of her friends and we said g'day for about five minutes and that was good. Then all my friends were going home and all her friends were going home but we were going to stay there together and I thought, "Wow, this is great, I'm in here," and I was rapt. And then one of my mates didn't have a lift - he couldn't get home because...there was no one going his way. And he said, "I can't go home, I need to go home with you." And I said, "Walk." LAUGHTER DAVE HUGHES: But it was too far and I didn't have any money to give this guy - any money to get him home, to get him away. And so we had to go to an ATM together and by that time she'd started talking to him as well and I didn't know who she wanted now, so I said, no, well, I took him home and left her because I didn't want him to get her either, you know? And so on the way home, I'm just yelling at this guy, saying, "Mate don't you ever do that again, alright? I've just missed out there and it's your fault." And I told that story on radio the next...on Monday morning and she was driving across the Bolte Bridge, apparently, listening to the radio and heard it and rang up, and from that...and then we got together from there. ANDREW DENTON: That's a... LAUGHTER ANDREW DENTON: That's a beautiful story. If you have kids, that's something to tell them, isn't it? DAVE HUGHES: I believe it is. ANDREW DENTON: Yeah. DAVE HUGHES: She wants to have kids. She's always talking about having kids, which freaks me out. ANDREW DENTON: Why? DAVE HUGHES: Oh, because I was just, I mean, I love her but, you know, it's...it's...it's a big commitment, you know. Recently she said to me, "Can we have kids in two years?" And I said, "Oh, I don't know about that but we can have fish and chips tonight." LAUGHTER ANDREW DENTON: But it's...it's only a commitment for the rest of your life. DAVE HUGHES: Well, exactly, so, I mean, yeah, I am 33, so I should think about settling down. ANDREW DENTON: What kind of a dad would you be, do you reckon? DAVE HUGHES: I think I'd be a good dad. I think that I'd be honest with my children and, you know, try to treat them well. ANDREW DENTON: (Laughs) You haven't given this any thought at all, have you? DAVE HUGHES: I haven't, no. I don't even want to get a kitten. ANDREW DENTON: Does...the relationship come under pressure if your girlfriend isn't sufficiently rich with material? DAVE HUGHES: I think it would, actually, to be honest. But she always is...she's up for it, you know...she's generally... We sit down at night and we go...I go, well, "What was funny today? You tell me." And she's got some...she's always got ideas for me so she's really good in that way, absolutely. ANDREW DENTON: Breakfast radio, two TV shows a week, Dave Hughes the persona is a bit of a slacker, a bit of a guy that, you know, just takes it as it comes. How ambitious are you? DAVE HUGHES: I...initially I just wanted to make a living as a comedian and, you know, I dreamt of being on radio and being on TV, and now that it's happened, I don't really dream of anything anymore. I try not to even think about it, you know. I just...all I think about is, you know, sport. (Laughs) I really don't. I should probably more focus more on what goals I want to achieve, but I just don't. ANDREW DENTON: Do you feel good about yourself now? DAVE HUGHES: Absolutely. I'm so...yeah. And I think once...well, I've worked hard but also I think once you relax into life more, it gives you more. Where you go, hang on, I'm not going to worry... I am going to laugh at it. And then, all of a sudden, things start going your way. ANDREW DENTON: I know you don't want a kitten, but I reckon you'll make a great dad. Dave Hughes, thank you. DAVE HUGHES: Thank you, Andrew.